I bet I know what Shania Twain would say.

First concert review in ages. It shows. This whole thing felt stilted and rough. Guess those muscles haven’t been used in some time. As always, when it goes up on the mothership I’ll post a link here.

Toronto is an amazing city. Its crowds however, are notoriously tentative. Massey Hall is an amazing venue. The comfortable seating and tiered views however, are awfully enabling for Toronto’s already tentative crowds. Future Islands are an amazing band.

No qualifier required.

It took to the end of the first song for the crowd to surge to their feet. No stuffiness or recalcitrance, just pure unabated enthusiasm. From the floor to the balconies rose a sea of people overwhelmed by Future Islands’ raw passion and blistering performance. Why? Because they encourage no less than awe.

This may all sound sycophantic, but if you’d seen lead singer Samuel Herring lunging across the stage it would make perfect sense. As in the band’s now iconic Letterman performance, their energetic live presence was phenomenal. Herring covered the entirety of the stage, whether through Hotline Bling style contortions, the Cossack Dance or sliding across the floor like he was diving for home base. His interpretive movements were backed by the strength of his impressive vocals. His unique voice oscillated between expansive notes and animalistic growls, receding to an almost whisper during quieter tracks. The rest of the band was more reserved, but crafted a full encompassing synthpop sound.

For the audience, seeing Herring’s unhinged performance seemed to unlock something within them. People were dancing, flailing limbs wildly. They were singing along, cheering and clapping. Frankly, with the crowd on their feet for the entirety of the performance, every song garnered a standing ovation. It was unbelievable, people still hollering and cheering well after the track had ended. The band’s most famed song, “Seasons (Waiting on You)” had the crowd clapping for several minutes.

Massey Hall, as always, justified why it’s considered one of Toronto’s most atmospheric venues. The warm acoustics were backed by gorgeous lighting effects. There were bouncing coloured balls of light and Moonlight style soft blues, pinks and purples. At times lights rained down like confetti or blanketed the stage in warm orange blossoms. Herring thanked the audience and acknowledged the venue, saying they’d performed in Toronto many times, but always with the goal of making it to Massey Hall. There was no question in the crowd’s mind. Future Islands had made it.

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When do we get Just For Lives and Just For Loves?

That’s over. Around 4.30am I put my half-finished Guinness down on the Comedy Bar counter, content with ten days well spent. 33 shows between seven venues. So many performers and differing comedic styles. Late night beer, burritos and Uber rides. Half-dead days at work spent replacing bodily fluids with caffeine. Looking at leftover wrist stamps from the previous night’s shows and wondering how long a stamp has to last until it’s officially a tattoo. Plotting, scheming and general sneaky tactics trying to contort my schedule to see everyone I could. Running into friends constantly, or making new acquaintances that I’d constantly see at gigs across the festival. The highs and lows of those ten days, getting to a point of exhaustion and finding my second, third and sixth winds. Straining humour muscles to the point where I wondered if I knew how to laugh anymore. It was a period almost removed from reality, surreal, even.

I remember my initial reaction to this year’s lineup being pretty lukewarm. The last few years have had such big names, that it felt sort of underwhelming. Much smaller acts, lesser known comics this time around. The ratio of female comics however, was a vast improvement. While the 42 in past may have had around 12 or 13 women, this year it was closer to 20. There’s still work to be done, but it’s something. Instead of looking at a colour chart filled with white male comics, JFL42 this year had an array of diverse voices. We got to hear from comics who are known, but not massive. Hari Kondabolu was fantastic, with clever structures and punch lines. I had high hopes for Shasheer Zamata and she fulfilled all of them, adroitly skewering societal stereotypes. Liza Treyger was amazingly sex positive and smartly crude. Keith Pedro, a local doing opening sets, totally crushed it. Gina Yashere had used her awesome niche perspective to bring insightful comedy to her act. Ali Siddiq was a compelling storyteller, offering experiences so far from my own that it was hard not to get pulled in. Morgan Murphy had maybe my favourite joke of the festival. Insanely tight joke structure that began “my doctor told me I can’t have kids”. Outstanding stuff.

As JFL42’s biggest fan, it was hugely gratifying to see the festival go from strength to strength. The app this year for the most part did was it was supposed to. Getting rid of the GPS function and need to check in at venues streamlined the process significantly. Occasionally one of your credits would get stuck in the aether, but it was the exception to prove that the app ruled. The reward tiers for those who went hard were a nice touch. The Master level reward was actually a huge boon. Being able to skip the line at venues was a massive privilege. Earning the reward four days in meant the rest of my festival was a total breeze. It may have encouraged a bizarre (and frankly worrying) burgeoning megalomania, but now that the fest is over I can revert to my plebeian ways once more.

Some thoughts: I know it’s an institution, but is Second City the most frustrating comedy venue in Toronto? Uncomfortable, dinky little chairs at tiny tables in a venue where comedy is leveraged to encourage table service. Having servers constantly moving around (and it’s not their fault, it’s their job) is almost as distracting as hearing the constant beep of debit machines as the show winds to a close. The whole structure does wonders to undo the magic of being sucked into a performance. Can we please find somewhere else to put the Alt Show next year? On a more positive note, opening up Comedy Con to all passholders was magic. The In Conversation chats were like Inside the Actor’s Studio without James Lipton’s ego. Some fans got weirdly entitled during the Q&A segments (sorry Birbiglia), but there were also incisive questions that opened up amazing responses. The Toronto comics absolutely shone alongside their international counterparts. Whether performing opening sets or headlining slots, it proved how lucky we are to have them on tap all year round. If you’re a local comedy fan and still haven’t seen Chris Locke do a longform set, you’ve got work to do.

A huge thank you needs to go out to everyone involved. From JFL42 programming staff for putting together a fantastic diverse lineup, to customer service who were always quick to respond and pleasant to deal with. To ticketing staff and volunteers, putting in late nights and taking everything in stride. We’ve sincerely got something special going on here. See you next year!

Just for Flasks, then?

And we’re off. JFL42 is in full swing and it just so happens to coincide with the busiest part of my work year. *Half-hearted cheer*. If by some grace of a higher power (or substance abuse) I manage to not go insane, these next ten days could be quite fun. Or the beginning of severe dependence issues.

John Mulaney was a hell of a way to start. The consummate comic, sure to be a palate cleaner before the cavalcade of straight white dudes thinking that edginess for edginess’ sake is a novel point of view. His opener Max Silvestri was great. It was easy to see why Mulaney picked him to open. He had a similar physicality and vocal playfulness. His punch lines were creative and well set up. I’d be happy to check him out during the rest of the festival, though realistically I’ve already seen half of his set.

Mulaney himself was everything I’d hoped. He’s a total professional and cripplingly funny. There was this bit he had about wanting to be friends with everybody that resonated so strongly with me. For a split second I thought I was the one onstage, but then wondered why I had such an impressive wingspan. His material was excellent, in the sense that it was specific and personal enough to be novel, but broad enough to be relatable. He had this phenomenal extended bit about school assemblies (in particular the stranger danger ones) that was perfect. I finally got to hear the full iteration of his Trump horse loose in a hospital bit, which really sung when taken out of its truncated late-night form. It was impressive to see how much he did with so little too. One of his stories involved a Mick Jagger impression. Thing is, there were no extended diatribes or anything. A few words here and there, maybe a short sentence. The level at which he sold that impression though, was something to behold. Even if it was a word or two, his posture shifted, mouth morphed, voice and demeanor instantly recognisable. I’m sure he spent hours refining it, but he sold the shit out of an impression that at times lasted fewer than three words.

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not actually doing coverage this year, that this whole festival is purely a leisure activity. I’m so reigned to my previous mentality that it feels like my duty to work the system and try to catch everything I can. To make sure I’m seeing a diverse range of acts and really taking advantage of what the festival has to offer. Without door list privileges this year, I need to expend much more mental energy ensuring I get all the acts I want. Ironically, not doing press almost feels like more work.

Wait, if this is for fun, does that mean I can relax and have a drink? This might not be so bad.

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.

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.