From March 9 to 13, Torontoist is covering the crap out of Canadian Music Week, with daily concert and film previews, reviews of the latest action, words with your favourite and soon-to-be-favourite bands, and more.
Opopo played the Indie Love Radio show at the Royal York on Friday afternoon. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
Friday and Saturday nights are the two biggest of the festival, and sure enough, we ran from show to show to movie to show. Here’s some of what we saw.
Friday, March 11Nash
Nash’s playful, upbeat music didn’t feel well-suited to the tiny venue, though that could have had more to do with the number of electronic instruments and the minimal speakers available. The band is, however, well-polished and their songs solid, but they were unfortunately missing a defining factor.
Although The Wilderness typically has a rocking electronic and highly performative show, they pulled off a beautiful, calmer acoustic set this time around. Stripped of electronics and adding a cello, they created a very cool, and very rewarding sound. They even included a new song, “Spit it Out,” written only a couple weeks ago. These guys really managed to make this tiny space work.
Olenka and the Autumn Lovers
The small performance space worked especially well for Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, who followed The Wilderness’s acoustic set and did an equally great job. Their self-described “parabolic” set—the only happy song was right in the middle—featured incredibly imaginative and narrative songs, with lovely vocal melodies over stringed instruments. It was like a warm hug on a rainy CMW Friday.
The collective mind of OPOPO emerged in the Banff Room (an event room about the size of a large hotel room) amidst fog, lights, and lasers. Characters Zoli Kanyo and Avem rocked out to two songs from a forthcoming electronic concept album. The heady, esoteric concepts, paired with danceable electronic synth music, were further enhanced by the band members’ light suits—which may or may not be the source of their musical power.
With soaring vocals and a band that sounded like laid-back times on the prairies, Montreal singer Katie Moore hit a sweet spot between folk and alt-country—perfect for a Friday at 8 p.m. The Silver Dollar was packed with enough of her friends from back home that she dubbed the crowd “Montreanto,” one of her many forays into quirky banter that dissolved into adorable self-referential humour. Describing her attempt to cover a McGarrigles song in front of at least one McGarrigle, Moore said: “I forgot the words, but I just gave her a little wink and it was alright.” A final note: she had aprons for sale at the merch table.
Some bands are influenced by past eras, and some bands are just born in the wrong one. Such is the case for The Sheepdogs, who channel the 1960s all the way from their psychedelic rock to their luscious locks, the shags on their heads to the shags on their guitar straps. While their sound is quintessentially southwestern, The Sheepdogs hail from Saskatchewan. All in all, they seem ridiculously out of place for this day and age—even a little exaggeratedly or purposely so—but that isn’t entirely a bad thing when they’re able to take us back with them, and it’s a pretty fun ride.
Pick A Piper
Frontman Clint Scrivener (who, contrary to the trend, cut off his shoulder-length tresses) announced to the packed crowd at Rancho Relaxo that he’s “not exactly good at stage banter,” leaving the breaks in between songs a little awkwardly quiet. But it’s ultimately forgivable: keeping up with the band’s pounding, driving double-percussion setup should take enough of his focus anyway. Though not delivering the seven-person drum jam they alluded to before the festival, the four Pipers did not disappoint. When all four joined in the simultaneous beating, it felt as if we were all in some action chase scene in the jungle—or for the faint of heart, listening to the soundtrack of a chase scene in the jungle.
We didn’t see any of the glitter or balloons that are signature to a party by the local post-punk indie outfit. In fact, the vibe was significantly lower-key than we were expecting, mostly due to a sparse crowd and a seating area of plastic chairs. The Wilderness’s music, though, is not for sitting, and for all that we’ve heard about their high-energy live shows and critical acclaim for their debut album .272, we left (early, to be fair) with a feeling that there’s much more that could be taken from a show by The Wilderness, but sometimes it’s just not meant to be.
Bombay Bicycle Club
U.K. indie pop darlings Bombay Bicycle Club should be quite pleased with their first concert across the pond. Lee’s Palace was packed, the crowd absolutely loving the fun, guitar-driven, split-second movements from soft and happy-go-lucky riffs to head-banging chords (sometimes so exaggerated, we had to giggle). They beat out fellow Brits The xx, La Roux, The Big Pink, and Mumford & Sons to be named 2010’s “Best New Band” at the NME Awards, and with recent releases in North America, we’re sure they’ll be cruising around here a little more often. No training wheels needed.
The definite highlight of the Gentlemen Husbands show was a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” taking advantage of the Horseshoe audience who, at this point in the evening, was in the mood for a little sing-along. For the rest of the show, however, they were content to sway back and forth, and fist pump with one arm while clutching a cold pint in the other, and utter gutteral growls in support of these gents, with one Lady Wife, and their hard rock about robbery and the frustrations of small town life.
Saturday, March 12
Kidstreet‘s show at the El Mocambo last night lived up to our recommendation. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
On an island off the coast of Denmark, the eight members of Efterklang met up with Paris filmmaker Vincent Moon for four days of “filmic and musical experiments.” The result is a touching exploration of the collaboration between each of the band’s members, as well as their surrounding community, to create really, really great music. The stunning performance sequences (often shot in one long take each) illustrate that a song is just as influenced by the place in which the creation occurs as it does the people doing the creating, with musical collaborators like elementary students in their school gym, nature itself in a midnight outdoor performance, and a really touching piece including the band’s parents playing alongside them. Moon’s visuals are just as captivating as the music itself, and the number of empty seats in the theatre was a shame.
Since we missed his show at the Rivoli on Friday night, we took it upon ourselves to catch Victoria’s Aidan Knight’s free afternoon show at the Toronto Institute For The Enjoyment Of Music, though officially not a part of the CMF schedule. And really, we were lucky to even get a seat. The storefront windows quickly fogged with the collective body heat of the audience, getting quite comfy with each other in the close quarters. But no one really seemed to mind the discomfort with Knight and his band as a beautiful distraction. The combination of performance, intimacy, and atmosphere made this a definite highlight of the entire week, despite a rather persistent buzzing from the equipment (to Knight’s chagrin).
The Indie Awards
The Indie Awards are always a good opportunity to rub shoulders with your favourite band guys and girls as attendees float from performance room to media room and somewhere (the lobby, mostly), you meet in the middle. Last night’s Indies saw
statues guitars handed to Hollerado, Alexisonfire, Shad, and Crash Karma (guitarist Mike Turner, ex of Our Lady Peace fame, was on hand to accept), along with winners not able to attend such as Arcade Fire and last year’s Polaris winners Karkwa. The performances at the Indies are always substantial (approximately four to five songs per performer), which is probably why the show always manages to sell lots of tickets on top of accommodating festival wristbands and passes. A performance by Vancouver singer Hannah Georgas early on set a lighthearted tone while later, one of the best bits of programming in the entire festival saw Shad followed by headliner Janelle Monáe close the show, enlivening a crowd that was already buzzing with adrenaline that much more.
We were only able to catch the tail end of Fred Penner’s set, but we just wouldn’t have been able to face our six-year-old selves if we didn’t at least try. Our pal Penner is a little grayer than we remember, but passé he is not. The sign of any true musical icon, he remains contemporary by updating classics like “The Cat Came Back” with samples from k-os’s “Crabbuckit” (reworked as “Check out the cat in the bucket”) and “Hit the Road Jack” (we’ll let you guess what he did there), and had the audience of twenty-somethings giddy with excitement as they swarmed his merch table. Well-played, Penner! We still have so much to learn from you. If only Word Bird was still with us today.
This year at Canadian Music Week, over eight hundred bands come to do what they love: play music. But have they ever really thought about why? Have they even been asked? In Andrew Zuckerman’s Music, musical legends across the genres, from Ravi Shankar to John Williams to Ani DiFranco to Russell Simmons to Iggy Pop, reflect on their art of choice, its joys, and its vexations. The next-to-nothing set and editing put the larger-than-life personalities front and centre, and it’s quite intriguing to see some of these greats awkwardly try to put music into words (Fiona Apple at one point equates writing music with shitting). But the overall effect of the film demonstrates that, on a basic level, they all love/hate/thrive on music for the same reasons. And if that’s true, it’s probably not far off from those of almost all of the eight hundred bands that passed through our city this week.
Such a fitting name for a band which sounds like a jazzy, gospel-esque rock band clearly running on soul power. Each Urban Preacher member is a powerful soloist in their own right and they found a sweet combination among the musical elements, most notably the Aretha-Franklin-incarnate vocalist and the smooth, deep-baritone saxophone.
Trevor James and the Perfect Gentlemen
Perhaps the best quote of CMW 2011 came from the sound tech at Rancho Relaxo when, before the Trevor James and the Perfect Gentlemen show, he suggested that “the ukulele is teetering on the edge of annihilation.” The band was playing a stripped-down set with a guitar/vocalist and a backup vocalist/uke. The duo (currently looking for a new drummer) is similar to City and Colour, but with a much less frail and a more assertive sound.
Slowcoaster are a band that has the raw goods. A wicked ska/reggae three-piece from Cape Breton with no gimmicks, including a powerful frontman/guitarist, a bassist who threw down some truly funky solos, and a drummer who ebbed and flowed through tempo changes, but could keep a barn burner running for hours. These guys had the place packed and jumping. Really hard to not want to move to the music.
The Golden Dogs
The high-powered Golden Dogs delivered a thoroughly enjoyable show, swapping instruments back and forth, taking turns on different tools. Highlight of the set was the huge build-up at the end, with a trumpeter unexpectedly jumping from backstage to take the finale up another level. We’re unsure if The Golden Dogs were expecting it to happen—they seemed genuinely surprised—but they incorporated it perfectly.
We called these guys one of the sure bets to see last night, and not to be self-congratulating, but we were very right. Kidstreet not only provided the turbo-charged synth rock set we expected, but were even joined for an impromptu percussion cameo from Caribou drummer Brad Weber.
Your reviews come courtesy of: Carly Maga, Saira Peesker, Corbin Smith, and Nicole Villeneuve.