Daniel Lanois Nuit Blanche Toronto

On Saturday night Toronto held it’s “Nuit Blanche” all night art festival. Nuit Blanche is a concept that revolves around the idea of displaying art all night long across the city for people to wander around experience and enjoy.

This year I was to avoid Nuit Blanche, having visited it a number of years past, and feeling extra tired from my recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. That was until my friend Nigel called with the idea of catching Super Producer Daniel Lanois, live downtown, at Nathan Phillips square.

It’s at this point I will confess to not having known much about Daniel, until he recently moved into a new recording studio “The Temple” close to my home, generating some chatter in the local neighbourhood. When I heard it was he that had helped produce a number of U2 albums including “The Unforgettable Fire” my interest was truly heightened.

Nigel : “Let’s catch him down at Nathan Phillips square, you know he just finished helping Neil Young with his new album, and it’s bloody good!”

Me : “Errr, I’m kinda tired, but yeah sure why not, I want to see what all the fuss is about for myself anyway” 😛

Boy am I glad I got out of the house…

I arrived at the square around 10pm, having fought through hordes of young people wandering the streets as far as the eye could see. Although Toronto is a full blown international city, it’s not New York, and as such isn’t a city that doesn’t sleep. Not that 10pm is late, but at this point I would say Nuit Blanche was just beginning to pick up steam, with most people not hitting the streets till it’s well past dark.

Having said the above, and given Daniel Lanois’ stature in the rock world, I was quite surprised to be able to wiggle my way almost to the front of the performance stage… “Hmm, this is good methinks, lots of photo ops here perhaps”.

So, despite being one row from the front I couldn’t quite get a clear shot of Lanois, but the view reflected off the specially hung overhead gave a terrific image…

Daniel and his host of co-artists relaxed in this area the size of a boxing ring. Complex sound production mixers and God-knows-what, mixed with sofas, drums, guitars, mirrors and lights.

Music flipped between pumping guitar riffs, pre-recorded ambient electronica sounds, reggae dubs, and a sound that actually reminded me of Pink Floyd at one point… A delicious mix indeed!

Finally I made it to the front row, to see Lanois express his talents on the slide guitar.

By now I was sold on the whole event, thinking, “Blow Nuit Blanche and walking the streets all night long, I’m staying here!”

Nigel arrived and also bagged a front row position to my left… this was too good to be true.

Mr. Lanois seems to me to be quite a modest man in terms of rock and roll. The event was quite colourful, but his humility shone through when he stopped and took the mic to say a few words to the now adoring crowd…

He looked up at the tall buildings all around the square lit up extra bright on this night, and expressed how he felt the area had changed so much since his younger days… “I remember when this place was just a desert”. He grinned, as the audience cheered.

He then went on to explain a little of what was going on that night, how the sounds were coming from a mixture of sources, but especially biased by his new reggae (ish) sound created by the group “Black Dub”. He also explained how some of the ambient sounds were a new direction he was experimenting with and how he felt they, in some way, represented how Jazz may sound in the future.

Next up was a raw tune (probably), from the new Black dub album, with Daniel on guitar, some dude bashing out a extremely solid drum pace, and Trixy on Vocals. Unfortunately I missed the chance to get a shot of Trixy, but let me tell you her voice is very impressive seeming to come from a woman who’d done many a night singing in smoky Jazz clubs (OK, that’s how I heard it.. lol), without the possible ill effects that this lifestyle may cause.

OK, perhaps I should stick to the photography.. lol

After another batch of ambient swirls, came an sonic/visual energy explosion…

Wow this sound was solid, raw energy… and accompanying the band, a dancer girl dressed in a hat and jacket danced, spun and slowly undressed all round the ring. People stood transfixed, and time stood still as the crowd was locked into this amazing spectacle. I hope my images give some idea of the effect it had on the audience… The dancer cavorted with the crowd, flirted with Daniel (whilst he never lost a beat), and generally provided the spectacle of the night for the next what seemed like a full ten minutes.

Here’s a video recorded during the early part of the night, courtesy Richards69 (on YouTube) to give you a taste of the show:

During the next ambient set I managed to grab this shot of Adam Vollick, as far as I know, a visual artist who had a large part in the video, and imagery we were seeing live on screens around the square, and on the main screen behind the stage…

And speaking of the large rear screen, at midnight the live show was paused in order for Canadian, Neil Young’s new creation “Le Noise” (produced by Lanois), to be broadcast around the square.

I could attempt to describe “Le Noise”, but I think I’ll leave that to more experienced Neil Young fans. All I can say is it seemed raw and focused at the same time. Neil’s raspy tones contrasting with the mostly heavily reverberated electric guitar. Great stuff!

The partisan crowd loved this too… It seems Lanois can do no wrong.

Daniel watches one of the multitude of monitors around the mixing desk…

Screens froze people walking by too.

Three hours had passed now, and Nigel and I decided, with some regret that perhaps it was time to move on. The show lasted all night, and perhaps I should’ve stayed longer for more, but with so much on offer around the city, this was enough of a good thing (don’t believe a word of it! lol).

We decided to leave, and, as I walked away I grabbed this shot of Nathan Phillips Square…

…but I feel the last image has to be of the man himself. Thanks for the show guys!

Thanks for the invite Nigel.

Thanks for reading.

  1. NigelNigel10-13-2010

    Hi Kevin,
    Great photos and good memories of a fun evening!

    It’s such a different positive experience hearing and seeing good music played live, loud and close up rather than the iphone/sit at home/in the car normal way of the world.

    I’m glad I dragged you out to witness this.

    I love the visual of Dan in a greatcoat and hat playing alongside the semi-naked dancer.
    Oh how one has to suffer for their art!

    I’m sorry if my flash got caught on some of your shots but thanks for the tripod loan during the evening,

    I have never heard an album sound quite like “Le Noise” (title being a play on Lanois). The concept of solo electric guitar playing in the singer/ songwriter arena is unusual to say the least.

    Congratulations to Neil and Dan for sticking their necks out in trying something so different and even more kudos that it actually works so well.

    Neil has produced some very loud music in the past and he is relatively unique in the industry by having two very opposing styles with gentle acoustic and very loud feedback sodden electric noise.
    I happen to like both modes and have practically all his CD’s (as well as many b**tlegs!)

    I have seen him many times over the years (UK Tour 1973 being the first and Massey Hall Toronto in 2008 being the last) and the projections and sounds of Le Noise in Nathan Philips square that night could not really been improved on even if Neil had been there playing live. (Apart from more drooling on my part).

    I was interested that Dan seemed to be mostly playing a black vintage Gibson Les Paul guitar with a Bigsby tremolo arm that looked and sounded VERY much like Neil’s ‘Old Black’.

    After seeing Neil ‘appear’ to smash “Old Black” up in the video of “A day in the life” on the Fork in the road album, it is possible, of course, that there are many lookalikes of his very famous and iconic guitar. Maybe Dan has an answer to this? I would like one myself!

    I’ll revue my photos from that night and stick my favourites on Flickr if I get the time.
    Cheers
    Nigel

  2. KevinKevin10-13-2010

    “Dragged out” might be a bit strong as it will all make sense when phase two of my master plan kicks in (more to come on this).
    “Le Noise” is a nickname Mr Lanois picked up from a couple of his friends in the past, and perhaps at this point should not be used too liberally… 🙂 As I have seen elsewhere is was also the name Daniel signed off with whilst texting Neil Young during the album creation process and it seems Neil respectfully found another use for the wordage.

    Cheers Nigel for the comments, and well timed flash release 🙂

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