Saturday, August 13, 2016

Folklorama Pavilion Reviews: Week One (Part Two)

This is part two of my 2016 Folklorama tour diary, in which I review the various pavilions I've visited during the two-week festival. You can check out part one, covering the week one Irish, Punjab, Serbian "Kolo", and Brazilian Pavilions here

Thursday, August 11th: Mexican, Chinese, Greek Pavilions

Our second day of Folklorama began with a visit to the Mexican Pavilion (375 York Avenue), consistently regarded as one of the best pavilions of the entire festival, and with good reason: not only did the pavilion organizers make a spacious ballroom in the RBC Convention Centre feel as intimate as a small gathering, they primarily featured international performers to create a truly world-class experience, and the dance numbers change from show to show and night to night.

The 6:45 pm show began with a performance by the U.S. group Mariachi Continental, whose trumpets, guitars, and violins immediately commanded the audience’s attention, soon joined by the lead singer of local band Mariachi Ghost. However, this was only a prelude to the phenomenal Ballet Folklórico Et Mazatleco del CETIS 127, which performed one showstopping number after another to the audience’s delight, culminating in a traditional wedding dance in which the bride was lifted into midair while standing on machete blades. Dazzling and unforgettable.

Afterwards, we headed further downtown to the Chinese Pavilion, housed on the second floor of the Dynasty Building, accessible by elevator and stairs. We were fortunate to attend the pavilion on the final night of shows by the Chengdu Art Theater ensemble based in Chengdu, located the provincial capital of the Sichuan province -- and which happens to be a sister city of Winnipeg. The performers immediately made a strong impression with their stunning costumes and focused yet lively showcase of musicians, dancers, and acrobats.

The Art Theater’s programme included a mesmerizing solo lute performance, jaw-dropping acrobatics I can only attempt to convey with words -- one young performer spun her entire body around her head, and I still can't figure out how she did it -- and a finale inspired by Sichuan opera in which two dancers rapidly changed masks to the amazement of the audience. The pavilion ambassadors and hosts were extremely friendly and welcoming and contributed to an outstanding experience overall.

Our final stop of the night was the Greek Pavilion at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church (2255 Grant Avenue). A part of Folklorama since its inception forty-seven years ago, the Greek Pavilion has become a veritable institution and frequent destination for many longtime festivalgoers.

This year's show felt somewhat scaled-back from those of Folkloramas past, focusing on local talent, including the Kefi Folk Dancers of Manitoba and local bouzouki and guitar players, and a cultural display celebrating athletics and the Olympic Games in the Hellenic Cultural Centre connected to the church.

Given the bustling energy of the dining hall downstairs, the opportunity to visit St. Demetrios itself was much appreciated, and the church's deacon was on hand to answer questions about St. Demetrios' striking interior. The show itself ended with the perennially crowd-pleasing Zorba dance, concluding our own tour of pavilions that night on a high note. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Folklorama Pavilion Reviews: Week One (Part One)

2016 marks the 47th year of Folklorama, Winnipeg’s annual multicultural festival and the largest of its kind in the world. This year, the festival boasts forty-eight pavilions showcasing a wide variety of cultures throughout the city, and I made it my goal to attend as many as possible, choosing not only pavilions I hadn’t visited or hadn’t visited in a while but regular favourites as well. 

Tuesday, August 9th: Irish, Punjab, Serbian “Kolo” Pavilions

We started off Folklorama by visiting the Irish Pavilion (Soul Sanctuary, 2050 Chevrier Blvd), and it was a great way to kick off the festival. The pavilion, which used to be located downtown, is now in a modern and air-conditioned venue near the intersection of Waverley and Scurfield Boulevard with ample parking space. 

The main hall, which is spacious and well-lit, is the ideal venue for the pavilion's extremely polished show that combines superb dancing -- including a showstopping tap dance-off partway through the show -- and infectious, energetic live music courtesy of the Irish band O’Hanlons Horsebox. Before the show began, we sampled a delicious Irish stew and soda bread that proved a meal in itself. 

Members of O'Hanlons Horsebox and I. 

The Irish Pavilion is very social media-savvy — audiences are encouraged to upload photos and videos of the show on social media, and it’s one of the few pavilions this week with an active Instagram account. (I posted videos and photos about my experience at the pavilion on Instagram and was followed by @irishpavilionmb not long after; they also commented on many of my photos.) The venue’s location in southwest Winnipeg may not have made it as immediately accessible as some pavilions downtown, but it was well worth the trip. Hopefully they’re in the same location next year. 

Next, we headed up into the city to visit the Punjab Pavilion (1770 King Edward St). Set in the Punjab Cultural Center for the third year in a row, the Punjab Pavilion is best known for its incredibly dynamic and ever-evolving stage show, which includes showstopping performances by the Winnipeg Bhangra Club (pictured below). The pavilion’s menu includes excellent butter chicken and flatbread as well as refreshing Kingfisher beer. As well, the in-depth cultural display located on the second floor boasts an impressive variety of exhibits and is staffed by knowledgable guides. 

The Winnipeg Bhangra Club in mid-air.

We capped off the night at the Serbian “Kolo" Pavilion, located at the St. James Civic Centre (2055 Ness Avenue). This pavilion features a lively and entertaining showcase of local dance talent courtesy of the Kolo Folk Dancers, who perform in traditional costumes. The pavilion’s delicious desserts are worth a visit alone, and the banter of the warm and personable hosts makes for an engaging atmosphere. 

Some of the desserts on offer.

Wednesday, August 10th: Brazilian Pavilion

On Tuesday, we caught the 9:45 show at the Brazilian Pavilion (Heather Curling Club, 120 Youville Street), which proved a welcome escape from the storm outside. The pavilion’s main attraction remains its stage show featuring Viva Brasil Canada, a group of local percussionists and capoeira performers; their energy, professionalism, and enthusiasm made for a terrific night. We were also impressed by the pavilion’s desserts catered by Deli Brazil, including its delicious mango and coconut ice cream and homemade churros, seen below:

This was a terrific start to the festival -- I saw three other pavilions the first week, which will be reviewed in the next part of this series. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

White Album Redux #6: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

White Album Redux is an ongoing series in which I share notable or unusual covers of songs on The Beatles' White Album, one track at a time. 

Because the first part of the White Album includes such accessible, well-known songs as "Dear Prudence", "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", it can be easy to overlook how weird the rest of Side One is. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" may be the strangest of them all.

Lyrically, "Bungalow Bill" includes a shout-out to Captain Marvel, oblique imagery, and an irreverent singalong chorus. Musically, it's not as unhinged as "Wild Honey Pie" - its immediate predecessor on the record - but it does feel like the band throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Trombone by way of Mellotron! Yoko Ono singing lead for a single line (and the only time this happens on a Beatles song)! Flamenco guitar! (There's a defiantly strange and unabashedly Beatles-influenced song called "Giant's Rolling Pin" on Tori Amos' newest album, and I can't help but suspect "Bungalow Bill" is one of its direct ancestors.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, professional covers of this song are few and far between, so it took some digging to find one that was notable enough for inclusion. Deerhoof's cover fits the bill. It's an off-kilter, sped-up rendition that still, thanks to Satomi Matsuzaki's cheery vocal performance, finds an unexpected balance between eccentricity and sweetness. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

25 Best Albums of 2014: #25 to #16

As with my list of best songs, it was very difficult to determine which twenty-five albums would make up this year's list. These are all records that had an impact on me in 2014, not only from current favourite artists but from new discoveries as well, and each deserves its spot here. Enjoy!

Honourable Mentions
Anjani – I Came to Love
Charli XCX – Sucker
Jessie Ware – Tough Love
John Southworth – Niagara
Mariah Carey – Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse
Sharon van Etten – Are We There
The Both – The Both
Yann Tiersen – Infinity

25. Future Islands – Singles
Singles doesn’t quite have the same immediacy and kinetic energy as the band’s now-legendary performance on Letterman, but the sweep and enthusiasm of the songs on this record is hard to resist.  

24. Wake Owl – The Private World of Paradise
The Private World of Paradise manages to evoke ‘60s folk-rock without feeling particularly derivative. A fine debut full of shimmery textures, anchored by frontman Colyn Cameron’s earnest vocals.

23. Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
VanGaalen’s latest takes a few songs to figure out what kind of record it wants to be, but once it does, it establishes itself as one of the strongest, most gut-wrenching singer-songwriter releases this year.

22. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Trading in the beats and synths of Born to Die for a live band may be the best creative decision Del Rey ever made. A singularly hypnotic, deeply cinematic album, especially on “Shades of Cool” and “West Coast”.

21. Beck – Morning Phase
Morning Phase isn’t Sea Change 2.0, and it doesn’t need to be – it’s one of Beck’s most engrossing records to date, with a moody, string-laden atmosphere grounded by strong songcraft.

Head below the fold for albums #20 to #16.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

25 Best Songs of 2014: #15 to #1

You can read Part 1 of my Best Songs of 2014 list, including tracks by Future Islands, Sam Smith, FKA twigs and Run the Jewels, here. 

15. Hospitality – “I Miss Your Bones”
On “I Miss Your Bones”, Hospitality trades the wistful, NPR-approved pop of their debut for something more angular and aching. One of the year's unlikeliest choruses. 

14. Jenny Lewis – “Head Underwater”
Sublime backing vocals and instantly memorable guitar help make “Head Underwater” one of the most vibrant, and vital, songs Jenny Lewis has ever made.

13. Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”
Del Rey’s decision to swap her synths and beats for live guitar and drums ensures that even in its more languid moments, “West Coast” never drags. Del Rey truly comes into her own on this hypnotic, smouldering song. 

12. Nicole Atkins – “Girl You Look Amazing”
A playful Talking Heads homage, cautionary tale, and killer pop chorus all together in one undeniably hooky package.

11. Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten”
"Forgiven/Forgotten" is an album's worth of conflict packed into two potent minutes, and demonstrates Angel Olsen's brilliant use of contrasts more than any other song on Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

Head below the fold for songs #10 to #1. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

25 Best Songs of 2014: #25-16

I had a very difficult time choosing the songs for this list, as demonstrated by my larger-than-usual Honourable Mentions section, but each and every one of these 25 tracks deserves their place as among the best songs released in 2014. 

Honourable Mentions
Anjani – "Song to Make Me Still": Few poems set to music work as well as this one. 
Hilary Duff "All About You": The first folk-pop song I've heard in years that actually has blood flowing through its veins. 
Imogen Heap – “Telemiscommunications” (ft. Deadmau5): Imogen understands both sides of the equation when it comes to technology better than any other artist. 
Jessie Ware – “Tough Love”: The highlight of a very strong sophomore release. Effortless and gut-wrenching at the same time. 
Pomplamoose – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”: Proof that Nataly Dawn can, in fact, smile. 
The Both – “Milwaukee”: The breath of fresh air both Aimee Mann and Ted Leo needed. 

Special Jury Prize: The Bird and the Bee ft. Matt Berninger – “All Our Endless Love”
After years of rumours they were recording a followup to 2009’s Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, the Bird and the Bee – Inara George and Greg Kurstin – returned this year with “All Our Endless Love”, a song for the film Endless Love notable on its own merits. Matt Berninger of The National is an inspired choice for featured vocalist: not only do his baritone and George’s alto blend surprisingly well together, but his presence gives a cosmos-sized ballad necessary gravitas.


25. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
In its recorded form, “Seasons” doesn’t have the same emotional impact and immediacy as Future Islands’ performance of the song on Letterman, but if there was a better candidate for a purely sweeping, pulse-pounding anthem in 2014, I didn’t find it. Slow Club’s pared-back rendition was one of my favorite covers released this year.

24. Coldplay – “Magic”
After the Technicolor rush of Mylo Xyloto, the simplicity of “Magic” comes as a breath of fresh air. Kudos to the band for writing a song with a skeletal structure that still feels expansive and ingratiating.

23. Mariah Carey (ft. Nas) – “Dedicated”
Mariah Carey’s new album didn’t quite live up to the expectations created by its terrific advance singles; regardless, it was an intimate, warm, cohesive record from an artist who could very well have gone down the path of soulless dance hits instead. “Dedicated” best represents The Elusive Chanteuse’s aesthetic – it’s a song with not only the easygoing feel and flow of a casual conversation but wall-to-wall hooks. Why this wasn't released as a single still puzzles me.

22. Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”
Yes, the Darkchild version with Mary J. Blige got all the Grammy nods, but Smith’s emotional delivery and the song’s gospel-influenced chorus make “Stay With Me” arresting on its own, even without Blige’s support.

21. Jay Rock – “Pay for it” (ft. Kendrick Lamar and Chantal Kreviazuk)
The year’s second late-night TV success story, “Pay for It” opens with a jaw-dropping, powerful solo by co-writer Chantal Kreviazuk (who, after years of success in Canada and co-writing with a bevy of pop stars, finally gets her due) and only gets better from there. Both Kid Rock and Kendrick Lamar show off their stunning delivery – Lamar very nearly steals the show here, as he did on Saturday Night Live.

Head below the fold for songs #20-16. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

24 Best Albums of 2013: #10 to #1

You can read the previous two parts of my Best Albums of 2013 list here. 

10. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
Ghost on Ghost is in some sense a continuation of the adult-alternative sound Sam Beam cultivated on his previous records The Shepherd’s Dog and Kiss Each Other Clean, but it also calls to mind the rawer, more acoustic work for which he first gained renown. Songs like “Grace for Saints and Ramblers” and “Lovers’ Revolution” are vibrant and passionate, full of detail without feeling overcrowded. Others, such as “Low Light Buddy of Mine,” so perfectly evoke the atmosphere and intimacy of a late-night jazz club that you can almost smell the cigarette smoke rising from ashtrays.

9. Beyoncé Beyoncé
I tend to like and admire Beyonce’s music rather than actively love it; individual songs have grabbed me in the past, but her records have been too uneven as a whole. Therefore, I was surprised to find that this record, which Beyonce refreshingly declared should be listened to as an album and not as an iTunes playlist, was a remarkably cohesive and rewarding work. Even in its lesser moments, Beyonce is still exciting and engaging.

8. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
The Worse Things Get is Neko Case’s most challenging record – it forces the listener to reconsider their idea of who Case is and the music she makes. Those expecting an album’s worth of fist-pumping anthems will be disappointed. Those who know the full extent of Case’s range will find an album full of piercing insights and irresistible lyrical collages.

7. London Grammar – If You Wait
I hadn’t heard of London Grammar until I read a glowing review of If You Wait on a pop culture website I greatly respect, so I had high expectations of the band’s debut, and wasn’t disappointed. London Grammar – Dot Major, Hannah Reid and Dan Rothman – have crafted an album that stands among such records as Stars’ Set Yourself On Fire as a chronicle of what one article about the band called the “quarter-life crisis.” If You Wait is more accomplished than its peers, however, and its best songs, including “Strong” and the astonishing “Wasting My Young Years,” achieve a remarkable sort of timelessness.

6. Haim – Days Are Gone
There’s no doubt that Haim owes a substantial debt to Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles among others, but Days Are Gone manages to wear its influences on its sleeves without coming across as mere pastiche. It's impossible to know whether we'll be talking about Days Are Gone a year from now, but if “Falling,” the sophisticated kiss-off “Honey & I” and the impeccable pop of “Don’t Save Me” are any indication, we’ll still be talking about Haim.

Head below the fold for albums #5 to #1.