Sunday, June 21, 2009

Further Afield with Sorrel Muggridge and Laura Nanni

It was hard to resist the request for participants in Further Afield, a collaborative art project between Toronto and UK-based artists, Sorrel Muggridge and Laura Nanni. I was to meet Laura in front of the Bellgo building on the X, and then instructions would be given to me. Sounded cool. I signed up.

Laura met me, accompanied by her documentarian, at the exact time and place. From there, we placed a call to Wales, where Sorrel and her colaborator, Lisbeth, were waiting. The two teams each took 493 steps, to symbolize the kilometers separating us. I wandered away from St. Catherine, towards the old port, reaching Rene Levesque as our starting place.

Then, Laura wrote instructions on the ground. Look towards the ___________________ and turn right. I was to find something in my field of vision that could fill in the blank. Seeing a woman in an obnxiously monotone hot pink suit, I suggested, "The woman in the garrish pink outfit." The instructions were relayed to Lisbeth and Sorrel, who were then to find an individual in a garrish pink outfit and turn right. I, on the other hand, had a much easier task of finding a "reception" which I interpreted as a reception desk for a hotel.

So we continued for about an hour and a half, relaying instructions back in this mad-libs style art project. It was fun -- mainly to come up with unusual things to fill in the blanks. I was rather proud when I took the word "wonder" from a travel agency called "Vacances Wonder" to give the instruction, "Follow the wonder and find a place to rest yourself."

At the end, I was told to describe my view to Lisbeth on the phone, and she did the same for me. As she described her view, I was instructed to draw it on a postcard given to me and finally to mail the postcard to her. And so it went... artist and creator sent postcard to artist and creator.

This wonderful (yes, there's the wonder) way to spend two hours was certainly not my typical art outing. sure, I go to gallery openings. But the art is passive and I am a viewer who interprets. In this case, I was turned into collaborator for the duration of the project. Although documented, the project in fact ends when the walking tour ends. I suppose the postcard is really its only remaining component.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. I did enjoy myself immensely. Would I consider this art? Not typically, I guess. But, that is part of the beauty of making art -- it can challenge one's preconceived notions of what art is. I am intrigued by very modern art these days of the land art genre and minimalist genre, even though it lacks the technical skills I so admire of line drawing and color. But, when explained, I appreciate the intent of these modern artists. I suppose Further Afield is very much in this vein. It warps and reinterprets the premises of art and makes one say "Aha! Thank you for stinging me out of my rut."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spiral Beach and the Sunday Sinners at the Green Room

Hurrah, the Green Room is back and seems to be crashing this bash with kick ass line ups night after night! I've missed this place more than you'll ever know, my beloved music box in Mile End.
So, as part of the annual Fringe Festival, the Green Room has been showcasing musical acts. Last night, Toronto's punk upstarts Spiral Beach and Montreal's ye ye reincarnates The Sunday Sinners performed to a mostly depopulated Green Room. Blame Sunday, blame the heat of the day, blame too many options with all the theatrical happenings, blame the fact the Green Room has been out of commission. Under no circumstances blame these two fantastic bands.
Spiral Beach has been on my radar for awhile, since seeing them perform several years ago at the Mile End Cultural Center (the Green Room's neighbor and kissing cousin venue). I was blown away by that first show, as these young upstarts put the kink in my mink with their wild revelry and ability. Since then, I've felt somewhat less enthused to see them play -- finding them a kind of pink punk (and I don't mean "gay" or "flamboyant" -- rather, just kind of not so ballsy). However, last night's show renewed my enthusiasm for this band. The newer songs are dirtier, harder, wilder, crazier, and make the early stuff that I liked so much seem... well.. superficial in comparison. This is a good thing. A band that evolves for the better is one with staying power. So, Spiral Beach is back on my great act list. Even if there was hardly an audience to appreciate it, Spiral Beach puts on a good ride for a performance.

More subdued, but no less intriguing were the Sunday Sinners. Again, this is an act I'd seen several times over and had felt lukewarm about until last night. Bedecked in matching glasses and burnt-toast-dry humor, I felt like I was back in Cambridge (Mass) at Christopher's watching folkies sing about their peeling paint. Only, get rid of the folkies bit and the peeling paint bit. The Sunday Sinners are a ye ye-esque, 60's inspired, guitar driven band. I don't quite remember them this way... so my memory might be playing tricks on me. Not to worry. I like when my memory has a senior moment of this particular kind. The Sunday Sinners were fanastico and I loved the vocals, loved their vibe, loved their spleen. Much like Spiral Beach, a band that had only garnered a kind of mildly enthusiastic response from me now has gained my full support and admiration. I'm already excited to see them play again, whenever that happens to be....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pick a Piper at Trois Minots

Tribal goodness, oh man, did I not expect this at all. What a fantastic barrage of drum symphony! Pick a Piper instantly brought a smile to my face when I saw there were two drum sets brought to the stage. Since Brad Weber is Dan Snaith's (Caribou formerly known as Manitba) touring drummer, I had an inkling things would be good. Snaith's shows are outpourings of mind governed physicality. What would Weber bring to the table on his own? Well, its clear the two have a similar vision. But, while Snaith goes synth-pop psychedelic, Weber goes for the tribal beats. All four members of Pick a Piper take to the sticks and pound their souls out.

The entire (albeit brief) set skirted through some other experimental genres. Trois Minots is not exactly the venue of choice for this kind of show, but lately this little venue has been showing some mighty fine artists -- its nice to have yet another stage available in this city so quality and mediocre acts can continue to flaunt their goods.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

United Steelworkers of Montreal at the Fringe

Goddamned I love the Fringe Festival. I think its better than the jazz fest, but only marginally so. I love its lack of pretense, its rootsiness, the communal spirit. Jazz fest brings in big names and its a huge party of one kind. But Fringe is so much closer to my own heart. I similarly enjoy the infringement festival because of its commitment to artistic tolerance and rejection of corporate sponsorship by any questionable companies. However, let's stick to the topic... tonight's freebie show at Parc d'Amerique.

I wish I lived in the Plateau. Granted, St. Henri is where its at if you have punk, anti-authoritarian leanings and embrace street cred as an asset. But, if I ever get married and have puppies, I want to live in the Plateau with the other liberal artists of the world. Why? So I can take my pack of brats to the Fringe festival free concerts and let them play and run while the good beautiful creative people stand around, drink beer, and listen to kick ass music in the heart of the city. This jovial event is family friendly, neighborhood friendly, artist friendly, introvert friendly, queer friendly, trans-whatever friendly, and you name it friendly. Everyone is all smiles, smiles, as Mr Rourk would say on Fantasy Island. Actors and actresses put flyers in your hand begging you to see their productions. It's a great vibe and a pleasure to attend.

As for tonight's two freebies, Lake of Stew followed by the sizzling United Steelworkers of Montreal, I was psyched as all get go to be there. Both bands fall pretty squarely under the roots genre, which means they have country leanings, but tend towards rock IMHO. I've seen both play before, and was by no means disappointed to see this well chosen complimentary pair. Lake of Stew is a little more sprawling and lacks the gritty character that gives the United Steelworkers so much charisma. Not to complain -- they are a fine band, but perhaps more sedate then I enjoy. As for the United Steelworkers, they put on a big, fun, balls out show. Its impossible not to like them, with their northern version of southern charm. I sometimes find it hard to believe that so many different types of quality artists are bred in the same city. Must be the constant exposure to quality entertainment in all arts areas.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Flotilla CD launch at O Patro Vys

Nothing is better than when a band exceeds one's expectations. Flotilla has been much touted around Exclaim and CBC... so my immediate response is always a one-eyebrow raised, "Impress me." That eyebrow dropped in less than two phrases of the first song performed, when they more than live up to the generous praise heaped on them. How lucky am I to catch them at this fairly intimate CD launch.

This sweet little local band is every inch bathed in that Montreal ethos that keeps on creating these amazing independent outfits. First off, they have the requisite atypical instrument, in this case, a concert harp. Second off, they seem to have that power mix of Franco-Anglo talent. Thirdly, they come off as mild mannered sorts whose "this is who we are" gentleness is disarming and charming. Fourthly, and most importantly, they make music you want to listen to again and again and again. Moody, surprising, and never pressing into discomfort as a means to evoke a wow! factor.

I liked their balance of softness and speed, the reflective and introspection of the lyrics, and just that lack of pretense and ego. Music that tends to be so sentiment driven or emotionally evocative is often a shade boring. However, this was NOT the case. NO NO NO NO NO. This band had me seduced and I walked out of this show a convert to the cause. Eyes out and ears up for Flotilla who seems to have stayed subsurface but will surely make big waves with their new album One Hundred Words for Water.