Canadian Music Week(CMW), April 20th, 2017
by Paul Fliss
I walked into the venue with a clear bias.
Their collaborative release, Star Stuff which came out a little under a month ago, already has over 35 plays on the unnamed streaming service I should not use if I really cared about compensating artists as much as I should.
So needless to say, I had been looking forward to this one, and on top of that, they played in what is easily one of the best looking and sounding standing-venues in Toronto.
You can’t help but look up when you enter the main room of The Great Hall. Tucked indiscriminately within a seemingly small building at the intersection of Queen West and Dovercourt, the historic venue seems kind of like a hidden ‘second’ Massey Hall to me.
Except the beauty is that the concerts are far cheaper, and depending on the show, you can walk right up to the stage or hang out from a balcony that stretches almost 360 degrees around the whole room.
And so there I was in that beautiful venue hardly waiting for too long, dreaming about how these musicians would translate an album that, although has that sort of ‘we-just-played-this-together-off-the-floor-and-that-is-the-sound-we-are-going-for’ quality to it, there’s also many layers of abstract sound and samples of soundscapes, dialogue and the like that maybe isn’t so easy to reproduce.
I’m happy to say Chaz, and the Mattson twins did not disappoint-- not at all.
All three stepped out onto the stage together with Chaz beginning at his ‘Company’ records-stickered synthesizer-- the line-out running through some kind of shimmery effect pedal, with a sample pad on top to boot.
Jared picked up what may as well be his signature cream coloured Stratocaster, immediately stomping-on his MXR phase 90 pedal.
And Jonathan took to his natural habitat: sitting on a throne behind his kit with cymbals just a slight raised-arm-length away from him.
The lights dimmed with the Great Hall’s characteristic blue hue, the crowed cheered, someone shouted “I love you Chaz!”, the trio locked eyes, Jonathan counted in by clanking his sticks together, then Star Stuff was born again.
Maybe it is my biased opinion talking (isn’t that what a review is anyway?) or maybe not, but this show was just infectious. Anyone who is a fan of psych-jangle-jazz (to typify it) couldn’t help but at least bob their head and float around in someway if they were in that room.
They played the whole album as far as I can remember, with long jam-like outros with Chaz alternating between keys and a Hofner viola bass which also-- of course-- was running through a phaser.
Chaz’s characteristic vocals, with his light phrase-driven affectations mixed with a sort of airiness he is known for in his project Toro Y Moi, chimed in first with the title track “Star Stuff”
Familiar themes of the tribulations of travel, the confusion of love and time were brought to life:
“I don’t know what’s behind me
I couldn’t tell you where she is
Images remind me of a time when we were kids”
--Star Stuff begins, pulling the listener into a nostalgia-fueled lunge backward to the muddled past and all that it means, or doesn’t mean
“Look at the sun,
Look at the red behind your eyes
Look at the way,
Everything fades, everything fades, everything fades...”
--“Star Stuff” ends returning to a tight high-hat driven rhythm with swelling lush synth tones layered on top of Jared’s only slightly reverberated strat being lead by an E-Bow.
A Boss RC-20 Loop pedal on Jared’s board supplied the samples of soundscapes and waves crashing along the coastline that these southern-california-dwelling folks hail from during the outro.
Later in the night, their first release prior to the album, a song called "JBS” found its way into the set. Beginning first with a clear and phased-clean guitar melody with a blended dripping delay surrounding Chaz’s ‘dooping’ bass that has the odd melodic lick at the end of a phrase, helping to compliment a ride-heavy-triplet-accented rhythm, "JBS" finds its home as the third track off of Star Stuff beginning with the phrase:
“I think I’ve gone and lost my mind”
--It’s not until about two and a half minutes in that we hear Chaz sing on this track. It’s the first track on the album with vocals, and it’s the third song in.
His voice is warm and just present enough in the mix (something that was captured very well at the show).
Finally after taking the listener through some winding sonic spaces, “JBS” ends with a farewell and a repeated statement anyone can relate to at times:
“I say bye.
I know I have to be alone inside, I know I have to be alone inside”
See a live performance of JBS here
It’s probably one of my favourite songs, maybe second to the opening track “Sonmoi” : a sprawling six and a half minute ride that begins with an eerie but settling wash of a reverb-ed acoustic and electric soundscape doused with a tambourine, which all gets progressively louder until suddenly an overdriven-phased bass and guitar swoop in each taking a different-but-jointed melody backed by a snare and ride heavy staccato-ed beat. No words are spoken, and the track ends with bongos, and a return to the reverb-ed wash at the beginning of the song, with the sounds of surf sliding through.
For each song that they played off of Star Stuff, it really felt like I was listening to the album and to me that’s not necessarily a necessity in a concert. I don’t want to see artists reduced to robots replicating something they’ve made in the past, so the spontaneous jams that every song ended with before each member visually-cued each other for a tight ending was a real treat. It all felt well orchestrated but organic to use a trite term.
They also played a few Toro Y Moi tunes including “The Flight” from 2015’s What For? which was a pleasure to relive.
Jared took over the near-classical piano line--originally played by Astronaut Etc.’s Anthony Ferraro, a classically trained pianist who tours in Toro Y Moi-- in the middle of “The Flight” which was a real testament to his ability as a jazz guitarist.
Halfway into the set, Madeline Kenney, who supported the trio on their tour, was brought back out on stage to help with “Omaha” a single Toro Y Moi released late last year as part of Secretly Canadian’s Our First 100 Days project: a multi-artist compilation subscription-based release with songs all centered around themes and circumstances of citizens impacted by current social policy changes in the United States.
The trio also debuted a new (unnamed) Toro song that reminded me a lot of the tones explored on both What For? and Star Stuff.
All in all, this band and everything Chaz and the Mattson twins touch is worth seeing and hearing.
I’m so glad they came to Toronto and as soon as Chaz and Madeline finish producing Madeline’s debut LP that's being released through Chaz's label Company Records sometime this year, I’ll be waiting in line like the fan boy I am.
Oh and also, by the time I got to the merch table to pick up a copy of Star Stuff on vinyl, they had already sold out.
Way to support great music Toronto!
Paul Fliss is Paul Fliss, a Toronto music lover and general weirdo who probably gets too ‘into it’ at shows