A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Photo: © 2014 Marc Weisblott/Twitter
Hello and a warm welcome to old readers of the Toronto street newspaper The Outreach Connection and my new readers! This is the very first entry of a weekly blog of arts and entertainment throughout the Toronto area that will continue to give you the same great coverage I’ve been doing for almost two decades, only bigger and better than before! So while this blog is at its early stages, please excuse for some of its crudity as we improve things over the weeks and months ahead.
As some may have already heard, Toronto’s oldest street publication in helping the needy, homeless and underemployed had its final edition on June 12, 2014 after 20 years and 1,071 issues due to the current publisher’s health problems, among other things; that have made it difficult for him to continue with Outreach.
First, I’d like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to past contributors and the street vendors who stuck with us through thick and thin, though summer’s heat and winter’s chills (and the polar winter of 2014 was absolutely no exception) who supported us for that duration.
Second, I’d like to thank founders David and Lily Mackin (1993-2001) and publisher Robert Callaghan (2002-2014) who kept this going as long as humanly possibly even through our toughest of times and for allowing me to carte blanche my way in running the arts/entertainment section and my cartooning work. You guys gave me my first “home” and I am grateful for being given that chance to prove myself and contribute to a section of our society that most often is ignored. There are no regrets.
Third, I’d like to thank past and present media contacts that have provided their most helpful cooperation with the paper and my column over the years and the partnership we have built in all this time. Your endless generosities and trust are gratifying and most humbling and hope we can continue to do business now and in the future.
And most of all, I’d like to thank past and present Outreachreaders that supported my column, editorial cartoons and all nine (!) comic strip series, from Melody and Mandolin Rain Bruin (1994-2006) to Rogue Alliance (2011-present) that ran in the paper for your loyalty and support you’ve given to me over the years in print and now online, plus for taking this new and exciting venture with me. It is truly appreciated.
Now – on with the show!!!
TIFF Lightbox, 350 King Street West
Saturday, June 7; 7:30 p.m.
Within the confines of TIFF Lightbox’s Cinema 1 held not just one, but two commissioned world premieres: Montréaler scratch DJ Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall Live, based on his own 2003 graphic novel and the NFB-produced short film Minotaur by animator Munro Ferguson that brought both thought and universality from the two projects exploring the past, present and future tenses all at once.
The preceding Minotaur, shown in 3-D, was a jumble of imagery about the mythical hero voyage through geometrics and minimalist objects floating around an orchestral score – done by Kid Koala himself – followed all sorts of dramas on life, death and the rebirth of hope in Ferguson’s eight-minute cornucopia putting a feast for the eyes with vivid colours and structures had a reminiscent throwback to the kind of film work NFB was doing back in the late 1960s to the ‘70s that sadly has been diminished in recent times.
A little preshow “bingo” game began Nufonia Must Fall Live with Koala of cards given out to audience members of visuals related and deleted from the graphic novel added a little fun (and prizes!) to the experience before the local string Afiara Quartet broke into a lovely, if lengthy melancholic introduction to the hour-long multimedia event.
Consisting of viewing a silent film, puppet show and nightclub concert, Nufonia Must Fall Live tells of a futuristic love story between a robot and a woman, both unhappy with the circumstances of their existence with Malorie as a corporate office drone and the worker android being booted from one job to another; as their paths cross in a meet-cute way.
Done with light humour and tenderness, it tackles a lot about the complexities of love and the threat of obsolescence in those themes it presents. Spike Jonze’s go-to production designer K.K. Barrett directs the film part whilst ushering stage puppeteers Clea Minaker, Felix Boisvert and Karina Bleau in their pantomimes in the mainly black-and-white content (there’s some splashes of colour, but little) on three miniature sets. The production weighs in on two characters trying to find a place in the world as it does about each other isn’t lost on the audiences on its three-night run at Lightbox.
Kid Koala – born Eric San – spins the turntables in harmony with the backing strings of elevator lounge, sound effects and such to his own creation effortlessly and also provides us with a little teaser: during a movie date scene, one preview “trailer” based on his award-winning 2011 graphic novel Space Cadet appears, which he’ll be performing late night at David Pecault Square’s Luminato Hub June 14 and 15.
Innocently absorbing, Nufonia Must Fall Live never fails in its conceptual moodiness and rapport on Benjamin Gerlis’ innovative set design, keeping it to its original source to the chest.
MaRS Discovery District, 101 College Street
Sunday, June 8; 2 p.m.
What a treat it is when you have the likes of Daniel Lanois to do a stereophonic sound check on steel pedal guitar in its varying ranges and pitches like a poetic transcendence with loose abandon before you.
Even more so when the Hull-born, Hamilton-reared producer of Martha and the Muffins, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and many others do a sit-down on the first of the four-part TimesTalk series moderated by New York Times Managing Editor of Video Bruce Headlam for a quiet, if reasonably full audience to chat about his five-decade career and the creative process at the MaRS Discovery District Auditorium.
Joined by producer Hal Willner and guest artists for the June 10 tributary concert Sleeping in the Devil’s Bed: The Music of Daniel Lanois, folk husband/wife duo The Handsome Family and Scottish crooner Alasdair Roberts, Headlam dove into the 90-minute conversation on digging into Lanois’ past regarding the breakup of his family and relocating to Hamilton with his mother and two brothers, as regaled in his well-known song “Jolie Louise.”
“It’s a song that tells about a boy meets a girl, they get married, he promises to work hard, loses his job, hits the bottle, hits my mother and her hitting the road,” the 62-year old music maker explained. “It’s a lot to tell in three minutes. (Music) is a fascinating medium unlike movies that take about two to three hours to tell a story.
“(The song) touched people’s hearts because it’s a true story. When my dad heard it, it was okay with him. [Then again] he was oblivious to a lot of things back then.” Chuckling subconsciously, Lanois added, “He probably didn’t know it was about him.”
Reminiscing about his boyhood days of listening to Buffalo radio stations playing stuff from Motown and the blues, Lanois credits being inquisitive on many things ranging from technology, economics and trade as well as music that made him sort of a teenaged wunderkind in producing a variety of acts in his basement recording studio like Jamaican gospel choirs to funk legend Rick James with the equipment of the day compared to what he now deals with in today’s studios.
“With a Sony TC-630 (reel-to-reel tape deck) I could create overdubs and fidelity that got it reduced to fade background information,” he said with vivid detail, including a cheap Roberts tape recorder. “With modern equipment, it’s hard to ‘dark’ certain sounds and we’re like, ‘How are we going to “dark” this sound?’”
Lanois credits his success in taking chances, as he put it: “You meet great people by rolling the dice. That’s where the knowledge is.” And he couldn’t have gotten a greater education when he had the chance to run into influential experimental art-pop/rock producer Brian Eno.
One thing most people don’t know is that Lanois nearly turned down to help co-produce a band that would forever change his life and cement his reputation, as he tells it: “I was thirty years old (at the time) but my direction was not too great. (Eno) was okay to make music that was obscure, to make music that record companies didn’t ‘get.’
“After that, I didn’t want to do anything else. But I really had to work hard. At that time I was doing a lot of work I wasn’t happy with. It was just to pay the bills and buy new equipment. [And] when Brian got a contract to produce this new Irish band, at first I didn’t want to do it but we went to Ireland and I was just tagging along.”
The band was U2 and their 1984 second album Unforgettable Fire, followed by their breakthrough 1987 masterpiece The Joshua Tree, propelling Lanois along with the supergroup quartet to megastar status and a lifelong collaboration from the groundbreaking classics 1991’s Achtung Baby and 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind to their challenging 2010 album, No Line on The Horizon.
“The thing I learned about U2 is they have a speaker dynamic range,” Lanois describes in working with them. “When you go into the open heart [of the band], then you have to wear a fireproof suit and you have to understand the hearts of these guys. So I was able to experience the incredible dynamic of them.”
On working with Bob Dylan and his 1989 Oh Mercy album in helping him find his muse: “Bob was in a session with the Neville Brothers and he liked what he heard and said, ‘Okay, I want to do a record like this’ and we did it in New Orleans. I decided to make (Oh Mercy) in a very quiet way. I set up an electronic monitor for Bob and he pretty much recorded the album that way. After he left [for the day], I just did the dubbing afterwards.”
But he admits, laughing, that he never learned anything about song-writing from the poet laureate of rock other than “sitting next to him and not many people have that opportunity.” However, Lanois put it, “It was never a misspent youth in a pool hall with Bob. It’s more like a library.”
Being an accomplished songwriter himself, he didn’t start composing his own songs until he was in his 30s. “I had to wait for the advantage to embrace the opportunity to write songs. I didn’t think that my own (Québécois roots) experiences were that interesting. I couldn’t see what was in front of me until I left (Canada).”
Weighing in on the conversation was concert and music producer Willner, who has worked with Macy Gray, Marianne Faithfull, Bill Frisell to late greats Lou Reed and beatnik icons Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs; about guiding a record album and the artists themselves.
“It’s like a cinematic way like Robert Altman,” Willner said. “We just kind of sit back and look like a montage, having a group of people together in the same room and hope something will happen. It’s a journey that can handle a songwriter’s work. It can take this kind of journey,” then quipped, remembering doing a posthumous album of comic legend Lenny Bruce, “working with dead artists is easier.”
Managing to wrestle a question I had during the closing Q&A session on the elusive Infinite Guitar sound created by fellow Canadian producer Michael Brook – and possessing one of only three such guitars in the world (Brook and The Edge have the other two) – as heard on the opening riff of U2 ballad “With or Without You,” Lanois describes the instrument like an ebow guitar.
“It’s the signal from the back pickup (sound) and you take the speaker and the pickup is trying to be the speaker and the playback to the (Infinite Guitar). But,” he warns jovially, “it’s a dangerous (instrument) as there’s a lot of electricity (involved) and sometimes smoke comes out of those things!”***
Festival Hub, David Pecault Square, 55 John Street
June 6-15; 24/7
Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros’ “Cardboard Beach” instalment for this year’s festival hub at David Pecault Square is certainly an inventive one, compared to the last couple of years that didn’t hit the mark like 2011’s stiff “Windscape” or last year’s gaudy “One Thousand Speculations.”
Constructing sturdy cardboard into beach furniture and breakwaters into an artsy manner of perpetrating an inland urban beachfront, one could say, is whimsical and inviting to behold, giving visitors the benefit to sit in the chairs and lounge about.
Stating more about finding leisure time in a town and society in whole running on the clock (hey, the financial district isn’t that far away), “Cardboard Beach” allows us to partake in slowing down and enjoy life and the fest for a little while, if only it didn’t give off such a pulpy aroma densely hanging in the air after a rainfall…
Festival Hub, David Pecault Square, 55 John Street
Sunday, June 8; 9:30 p.m.
R&B powerhouse diva and Prince protégé LiV Warfield put in a slick, rousing performance from her 90-minute set to the modest crowd that showed up at the Hub’s main stage, backed up by the New Power Generation Hornz was a sparkly topper to cap Luminato 2014’s first weekend.
Warming things up was NPG Hornz saxman B.K. Jackson pouring out a soulful, energetic jazz groove to covers of Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step,” Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbons in the Sky” and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” before the rest of his ensemble and Warfield herself clambered onstage.
The statuesque songstress, possessing all the bluesy-rock vocal and legginess of Tina Turner came out nonstop with material from her latest release The Unexpected (1860 Property) like “BlackBird,” the title track and “Don’t Say Much,” yet allowed her two backup singers to get a bit of the spotlight with a solemn, spot-on a capella version of “Bitter Fruit,” even when she asked earlier: “Can I get some of that sexy light? Like, I’m sweating ‘cause I’m supposed to be sweating!”
Sassy enough to tease but easy enough to please, Warfield could turn on the juice over “Love and Happiness” while toning it down pining in a Civil Rights tribute ballad “Freedom” and encouraging the crowd to join in one tune with: “It don’t have to sound beautiful, but just sing.”
Doing a horns a-blasting closer “Why Do You Lie?” and coming back for encore numbers “You Got the Love” and “Come Back,” where the former provided the concert highlight allowing a audience member name Gina to belt alongside Warfield and the latter a slow jam with Jackson pulling a killer, stretched-out pleading solo bridge fully entertaining on a high.
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