It’s funny business all the way down.

In short, it looks like I’m gonna drop out of JFL42 coverage.

Less short, we’re two days out from the event and the accreditation process is getting more involved than it should be with dwindling time. The easiest option is to instead buy a pass, go at my own pace and not stress about having to put together daily coverage while working full time. This should ease ten days of the fest a bunch, since nothing’s at stake. Given that I’m not fussed about headliners, the $130 I’ll drop (could’ve done a cheaper pass if I’d had more planning time, but this close to the festival things are getting booked right out) is a small price to pay for that peace of mind.

Speaking of peace of mind, Father John Misty last night far exceeded any expectations that I had. I was pretty late to the game with FJM. I didn’t even know he existed until well after I Love You, Honeybear was released. In fact, I think today may have been one of the first times I heard Fear Fun in full. I’ve been thrashing Honeybear possibly weekly since it was released, the writing is that great. I booked the tickets months ago and had great seats. Four rows from the front, six seats from the aisle. I’d been waiting for months and kind of banking on an amazing live performance. The hubbub before he’d even started was palpable. A cursory glance around yielded a ton of FJM clone sightings. Tall dudes with beards, long hair and shirts buttoned way open. I guess he has a type. Then his band took the stage, each of whom had a certain FJM look to them. A certain type indeed.

Seeing him perform, it’s a wonder Josh Tillman was ever stuck behind the drums of Fleet Foxes, rather than front and centre. With his persona Father John Misty, he’s sardonic, sarcastic and sartorially gifted (I needed something) in interviews, but behind the mic he opens up. Overflowing with charisma, it was surprising I could hear a thing over the sound of an entire audience (granted, I was no exception) ovulating. He has a commanding presence and fantastic showmanship. Dancing, striding, sinking to his knees, splayed out on his back and jumping up to his feet. At one stage he lay down on his belly, propped up on his elbows in a more “approachable” stance. He came right up to the crowd and knelt before them, even jumping down to dance amongst them. His voice was also fucking gorgeous. Something I always appreciate is when artists take risks with alternative arrangements live. Of course I adore the recorded versions, but there were a number of tracks where he tried a different tack that fit like a glove.

It’s funny, because I’ve always seen FJM touted as such a pretentious performer and taken it as a given. In reflection, maybe that’s more about people being unfamiliar with his shtick. He takes the piss a bunch, but when he’s doing a live performance, he gives a hell of a lot. After a 20+ song set filled with recent material and old favourites, he came to the front of stage and knelt there for five minutes. He shook hands with everyone who came to him and graciously thanked them for coming. If that’s what’s considered pretentious in this day and age, I’ve got no idea what sincerity looks like.

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Putting the “anal” into Merriweather Post-Analysis.

I’ve seen a fair amount of live music. Back when I lived in New Zealand I’d often drive two and a half hours north from Rotorua to Auckland mid-week to see a show, then back in the early hours of the morning to get to work. This possibly happened more weeks than it didn’t. From 2007-2012 or so, I attended a metric fuckton of gigs (which sadly did not include the band Metric). They varied in quality, as all things do. Some (like Grizzly Bear at Bruce Mason or The Mountain Goats at King’s Arms Tavern) left me with an exultant high while others were a flat out disappointment (TV on the Radio at Big Day Out comes to mind). The middle ground was composed of gigs that fluctuated between the marvellous and mediocre (Smashing Pumpkins at Vector Stadium) or those that weren’t bad so to speak, but different from what I’d been expecting/hoping for (Weezer at Vector Arena. Forgot how not into their newer material I was).

Then there was last night’s Animal Collective concert at The Danforth Music Hall.

I’ve been a huge fan of AC for years. In particular, Feels, Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavillion have been on constant rotation since they were released. I saw them live back at the Powerstation in the wake of their Fall Be Kind EP release. It was a sweet spot for the band. They’d crested the wave of critical adoration and brought out a similarly cherished bonus release. They sounded excellent and played a bunch of Merriweather stuff. Solid show that left me with a humming feeling in the core of my being. The kind of concert you dream of.

Last night’s gig was a mixed bag and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. I’ve been less than lukewarm on the band’s recent releases. They’ve felt fine for any other band, but lacking in that special harmony that seemed to epitomise their late 00s releases. The bulk of their material was from their 2016 album Painting With and the subsequent EP The Painters. They had a few Merriweather tracks plus a scattering of deep cuts and lesser known songs. As I said earlier, I’d consider myself a fan of the band, but I came away feeling sort of isolated.

On the other hand, they weren’t remotely phoning it in. Seeing them compose these hugely ambitious audio soundscapes was fascinating. The craft involved in shaping noise through a critical mass of effects pedals and gadgets boggled my mind. To conceive of sound in that way, taking a couple of notes, stretching and mixing in order to warp into a whole new atmosphere really took a shit ton of skill. A lot of it felt improvisational in nature and the chemistry of the band went a long way towards making the sound gel. It seemed in a sense like an electronic jam session, with band members bouncing off one another organically. That was pretty powerful to watch, seeing such a fluid working relationships (knowing full well of the band’s constant creative tensions). So much of the set seemed like they were out to challenge the audience, both in what they sought from a gig and how they perceived previously known pieces. Even when familiar tunes faded in, the tracks were entirely rearranged, taking aspects of the beloved material to recreate a starkly different piece. It made me begin to question the nature of what makes a song. How far can you go from a recorded piece, cherry picking elements to rework while still maintaining that it’s the same track? If it only casually resembles the former structure, what have you just heard? Experiencing songs I knew so well in a whole different light literally inspired awe in me. It recontextualised the piece entirely, crafting a meaningful memory of its own.

There’s been a lot of personal ownership so far. Defining this concert by how “I” felt. Looking around though, it was plain to see that the gig wasn’t what everyone had bargained for. Witnessing the almost desperate response to familiar material- feverishly energetic dancing, as if re-engaging calcified joints- I can’t have been the only one expecting a more crowd friendly set. I get it from the band’s perspective. Maybe they don’t like touring that much, but see it as a financial necessity. Perhaps they feel constrained by the rigid structures of their recorded material. They could even see delivering a polished, tight setlist as a method of giving up and phoning it in. Does a band owe anything to its audience? Is it fair for concertgoers to have expectations of what they’d hope to hear and, if those aren’t met, are they justified in feeling disappointed? Is it entitled to presume that the cost of a concert ticket implies walking away satisfied? Or is that a gamble inherent to the mercurial nature of a creative endeavour?

At what level can it be seen as self-indulgent to fly in the face of what your crowd seeks? There was a specific instance during a fantastic rendition of “Floridada” where Avery Tare seemed borderline antagonistic. Everything was humming away merrily, until he begun singing his part of the chorus in half-time, throwing off the rhythm of the track. It was in defiance of the rest of the band’s timing. How’s an audience meant to dance to that? Is a concert a performance or performance art? Something put out there to be critiqued, experienced or enjoyed? There’s no clear cut line, but it really begs the question: Who are you touring for? Yourself or adoring fans who’ve supported your career for years?

At this stage, I still have yet to determine how I really felt about the gig. Was that the point? We live in a world of nuance where it’s possible to hold a number of opposing views simultaneously. By the same metric, the next time Animal Collective roll through town I can’t say whether or not I’d want to go. This wasn’t a gig I’ll soon forget.

Well folk me.

I’m sure the audience left Wilco’s incredible Massey Hall set with very few questions. Screw that, I’ve got one. Just how many guitars does this band have? After every song- hell, sometimes in the middle of one- stage hands would rush out with an electric, electro-acoustic or steel guitar for a quick change-over. A constant procession of guitartillery. I’d question why they needed that many if they didn’t prove their skill so thoroughly. An expertly concerted effort to put together an undeniably amazing concert.

Easy as it would’ve been to coast on their legacy, musicianship stood at the forefront of their performance. Opener “Normal American Kids” began softly with a solo performance from lead singer Jeff Tweedy, eyes cast in shadow beneath the brim of his hat. The band gradually took the stage one by one, adding more depth to the track. If the first few songs sought to lull the audience into a gentle reverie, it wasn’t for long. “Muzzle of Bees” awoke a fury in lead guitarist Nels Cline, unleashing a blistering solo that brought the crowd to its feet cheering. If anything, it was a mere precursor to a whole new level.

“Art of Almost”, lead single from 2011’s The Whole Love, was an experience. Bright lights flooding the stage in time with thunderous drum beats, an array of discordant colours swirling as the track built. A stage hand hurriedly scurried onstage with a guitar in hand for Cline. Then things got wild: Four guitars shredding simultaneously, solos coming from every direction. Drummer Glenn Kotch frenzied, arms all-a-blur. The crowd howling, baying for more. After seven minutes of magic, the band finally relented, to almost deafening ovation. A moment fit for a conclusion, all of six songs in.

The band would go on to deliver a performance of over two hours, with a setlist stretching as far back as their 1995 debut album A.M. As a casual fan, I found myself utterly enthralled. I can only imagine the bliss of a hardcore devotee.

As always, Massey Hall was an outstanding venue, with unbeatable sound and lighting. For a band with such dynamic range, they couldn’t have chosen better. The stage was beautifully set. Framed by a copse of pigmentally painted trees, they’d be lit in summery tones one minute, before fading to autumnal browns. The effect was captivating, words doing the sight little justice.

When a band is still touring in some capacity twenty years after their conception, it’s usually a matter of love or money. Wilco proved beyond a doubt that there’s a passion still driving the band on the road. Even if it’s just to play with a ludicrous number of guitars.

Less a knowing nod and more a knowing wave.

As part of our Jewish Christmas yesterday, we saw Disney’s Moana. Fantastically done, it was a classic hero’s journey story with a Polynesian backdrop. Coupled with Zootopia from earlier in the year, it’s a solid sign that Disney’s really buckled down and focusing on the quality of their output. There’s been a recent push (likely from armchair internet commentators) towards diversity and three dimensional characters. From this standpoint, Moana excels. Of course it’s a film for a broad audience and it’s casting a wide net of pan-Pacific cultural influence, so it’s not gonna get everything right. I really can’t speak for the personally affected cultures, but as someone who grew up on the Maui legends of Maori origin, seeing that onscreen held a deep resonance for me.

The story of Maui, as far as I understand it, varies between Polynesian cultures. The Maui I was raised with was a cunning trickster and shapeshifter as depicted in the film. In lieu of a magic fish hook, he was armed with his grandmother’s magical jawbone. I remember fondly the tales of Maui calling together his friends to slow down the sun or fishing up the North Island. I guess they left out the part where he, in a quest to make mankind immortal shapeshifted into a worm and crawled up the sleeping goddess of death’s vagina. A hero being crushed by vagina dentata wouldn’t really belong in the Disney Vault.

Seeing Maui perform a brief haka before charging into battle and Moana embracing a character with a Hongi gave me chills. Having the ocean personified as such a central character was great and, much like Life of Pi, its unforgiving and beautiful nature shone through. The songs were catchy, with some slick writing from Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. Moana’s literal/emotional journey were inspiring and her relationship with her grandmother was one of the film’s cornerstones. It was also nice to see some knowing winks at Disney clichés. The lack of a romantic subplot was an awesome touch in an industry where it’s so often shoehorned in. Romance is great when it fits, but not all stories have to be all things.

On a technical side, the film looked fantastic. Hair has always been such a benchmark of animation quality and they’ve nailed it here. I remember thinking back when Final Fantasy VIII was released that things couldn’t get better. The years have happily conspired to prove me wrong. The ocean being such a central character, is gorgeously rendered in a brilliant blue. The colour palette is lush and visually eye-catching, screens filled with background details. There’s a well cultivated sense of physics (even in a film about gods and demigods) that really comes to life in the action scenes. The film is simply a joy to watch.

Your viewing might be different than mine, but for me it felt very close to home. A home that’s only five days away! See you soon NZ.

Does anyone ever create future fiction where new technologies don’t make love look bleak?

This post is gonna be a ringing endorsement. It happens sometimes that you come across an experience so enveloping and stirring that it feels a disservice not to push others towards it. If it’s moved you so much, why not let anyone in earshot hear? I rarely regret gushing about the things that ignite my passions and as such, I better fucking get on with it, shouldn’t I?

My girlfriend and I today visited Outside The March’s production of Tomorrow Love.

An immersive theatre experience with randomised elements, merely hearing the concept was enough to immediately check it out. Set in a former funeral home, soon to be demolished to make way for apartments, Tomorrow Love is a series of two person scenes, 14 in all. Given its scheduled demolition, Outside The March were given free reign to redecorate/furnish as they saw fit. The walls were repainted, new lighting fixtures installed and rooms structured as the theatre company desired. In the main hall, lights hang above the audience, each with a removable trinket attached. All blue and minimalist, the trinkets are mysterious, giving no real clue to the scenes they symbolise. A scarf, briefcase or mask don’t immediately jump out thematically, but make sense as the pieces play out. I saw the book, the bowl, the spaceship and the lily. The play approaches the entanglement of hypothetical future technologies and relationships, drawing fascinating dark implications. The Facebook event was only too quick to name check Black Mirror, for obvious reasons.

Eight actors round out the cast. Each actor learns each part in each scene, all of which are devoid of specific genders. The opening scene has characters pairing up, flowing back and forward from one another in a manner that evokes a sense of musical chairs. The audience decides at which point the action should be stopped, which locks the actors in with their partner for their first scene. Already segmented into four due to seating, the audience is then instructed to follow a pair to watch the scene play out. They’re led along a variety of stairs and hallways into assorted rooms where each piece is set. It’s borderline eerie to be watching the actors interact and wondering did they embalm bodies in here? After watching a scene, the two actors give the audience the decision of whom they’d like to follow to the next scene, during which they’re paired with another actor. The flow to and from scenes really adds to the experience. There’s mystery around each corner, not knowing where you’ll end up or what you’re about to see. It’s also exciting to be walking around a building for the first time, knowing it’s been entirely repurposed. To pad for time, I’m sure, there were occasionally interstitial experiences between scenes. As a group of five, we were at one point led into a small closet as our guide brought us into a fun little experience. Sorry for keeping this vague as hell, I’m trying to use wide brush strokes so as not to spoil anything.

The scenes themselves were fantastically written, exploring the nuances of imaginary technologies and their impact on a personal level. Elements of humour interspersed with some concepts so deeply stirring they drove me to uncontrollable racking sobs. The acting was superb, especially considering that the actors had to learn all parts, adding their own flavours. It was exciting to decide who to follow, how they resonated with you, whether you’d see someone from an earlier scene or not. In the 90 minutes you have time to see four different 15 minute scenes (plus travel time, etc) and it goes by all too quickly. I’d love so much to return another few times, to see as many scenes as I could, what each trinket symbolised and how actors would adapt. I can’t help but hope that if you’re in Toronto and interested at all in theatre, you’d give it a chance.

You could even see it tomorrow, love.

Finally fulfilled my bucket list dream of writing that dumb (née) thing in a published work.

The usual story. After the review is published on the mothership, I’ll change the entry to a link.

If the recently renamed and renovated REBEL (née Sound Academy) wanted an effective litmus test, it’d be hard to find a better candidate than M83. The French electronic band isn’t known for half measures, with a sound that’s cinematic in scope and a zealous stage presence drowned in light. Sound Academy was always a much maligned venue, distant and cramped with lacklustre sound, whereas M83’s live shows are often spoke of in reverent tones. The outcome was anyone’s guess.

M83 bolted straight out of the gate with 2012’s “Reunion” and the crowd collectively lost its shit. An anthemic audience favourite, its scale was matched perfectly by the floodlights illuminating the room. Mounted beams of light were scattered throughout the stage, pulsing and rotating as the band let rip. Showmanship was in abundance, whether it was lead singer Anthony Gonzalez emphatically posing as massive beats hit, or multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lawlor bounding around the stage, leaping from the drummer’s platform. Joe Berry earned an ovation every time he strutted out for a saxophone solo, while new addition Kaela Sinclair stepped away from her keys and showcased her stunning vocal range in “Oblivion”.

The setlist ranged across their discography, which raised a question of its own. Junk, M83’s most recent album, is a significant stylistic departure from their others. How they were gonna meld the laden, atmospheric shoegaze tracks with their new irreverent French electropop vibe? In all honesty, it wasn’t seamless, but it was altogether too much fun to care. If the tone wasn’t obvious enough, the visual distinction was marked. The headier songs were bathed in cohesively coloured solemn lighting. The newer tracks eschewed balance for flashy, saturated tints, with a general sense of ‘fuck it, just dance’. The addition of vocalist Mai Lan cavorting about the stage brought a renewed playful ambience. Hell, she kicked above her head at least once.

So that’s M83, how did REBEL do? For the most part, pretty damn well. The stage is expansive, showcased by sublime mid-set surprise “Sitting” from the M83’s self-titled debut. Purely instrumental, the song saw the band working the stage while Lawlor danced about, bashing away at a toy drum. The venue is no longer a sardined sweatbox, with at least breathing room in lieu of the old to shoulder-to-shoulder space. The sound is… better than it was. The peaks and troughs were all clear, but while M83 were giving it all they had, the presence of the sound was slightly lacking. You could hear it, but not 100% feel it. The lights, on the other hand, were where they brought their A-Game. Top to bottom splendour. Altogether, the renovations were much better than the cringeworthy name REBEL suggested.

M83 on the other hand were a spectacle to watch. Their joy in performance was effortlessly evident and lifted the crowd with it. The band bowed for a curtain call before walking off, glistening with sweat, waving and smiling. I can’t be the only one counting down the days till they return. But, y’know (maybe at some other venue?)…