Our breakdown of the shows we caught on the first night of Canadian Music Week.
How were yesterday’s shows at Canadian Music Week? Allow us to recap.
Pre-Show Hype: There was some significant hype for this show, since it was part of an invite-only event inside the CN Tower, and was also an opener for Joel Plaskett.
Crowd: It was a small crowd that was largely made up of industry folks and media, but Caplan impressively got everyone engaged in a call-and-answer song. It was great to see everyone getting excited about a show, and not acting all too cool for school.
Performance: Though we’ve enjoyed Ben Caplan backed by The Casual Smokers before, he’s more than capable of enchanting a crowd on his own. His vocal stylings sound like a fog of gritty second-hand smoke, and they’re enough to captivate any audience.
Best Moment: Either Caplan getting the audience to sing along, or the simple fact what we were all watching a show over a hundred stories above the ground.
Miscellaneous: Thoroughly enjoyable performance. Caplan’s call-and-answer “La-dee-diddy-da-de-ditty-dada” bit with the audience is still stuck in our heads a day later.
Joel Plaskett Emergency
Pre-Show Hype: JPE. A new album. Kicking off CMW. 351 metres above ground. The show was as high in hype as it was in elevation.
Crowd: Very intimate for such a big act, and mostly made up of industry types and journalists. But they were pumped.
Performance: Though Plaskett admitted to being put off by the heat and the altitude, his performance with the Emergency (Dave Marsh and Chris Pennell) was stellar. The trio hit their instruments full force, and Plaskett had an energy that put the dropped ceiling in harm’s way.
Best Moment: Besides the opening of “Nothing More To Say” (“All the leaves are gone, and I don’t give a fuck”), and the crowd yelling along with “Work Out Fine” (“All my friends, where did they go? To Montreal, TORONTO!”), one of the best moments was Plaskett’s line, “Time’s flying, let’s fly with it,” which he sang as a plane took off from Billy Bishop Airport behind him.
Miscellaneous: Scrappy Happiness, the band’s first release in five years, doesn’t officially come out until the 27th, but since songs from the album have been debuting every week on CBC Music, they were already familiar. Mixed in with older tracks, the set was a good combination of favourites and new material, though Plaskett’s face often suggested he’s still suffering from the heartbreak of 2007’s Ashtray Rock.
Pre-Show Hype: Not much. Though Kamps is gaining traction in Alberta, he has yet to catch on here.
Crowd: Smaller, subdued, and sitting—yet supportive.
Performance: For a guy who only started playing guitar four years ago, he’s damned good. Kamps really reminded us of Glen Hansard’s solo acoustic work, and even had moments reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and John Butler.
Best Moment: Though Kamps’ vocals and lyrics are solid, his instrumental piece was killer.
Miscellaneous: Though his guitar didn’t agree with the unseasonably warm weather and he lost some time to constantly re-tuning it, his music somehow feels like perfect listening for hazy late nights on a back porch under a starry summer sky. He was a treat for anyone who showed up to the opening act of Rivioli’s first night of CMW performances.
Pre-Show Hype: Probably more intense than we realized. Milner took part in Cover Me Canada on CBC, which may have been a big deal.
Crowd: Weak, considering how good Milner was.
Performance: Holy hell, this gal has got some serious soul power. Absolutely gorgeous vocals and all-around solid musicianship.
Best Moment: Pretty much any time Milner was singing.
Miscellaneous: Never having heard Milner before, we’re definitely converts and full-fledged fans after seeing her CMW set. Would it be inappropriate to ask her out on a date in a review? Just wondering.
Pre-Show Hype: Medium.
Crowd: Burns’s music isn’t designed to get people jazzed, but the amount of head-bobbing among the fair-sized crowd was promising.
Performance: Burns’s voice in a live performance has a grittier, angrier, twangier bite than it does on her records. In any case, it’s mesmerizing.
Best Moment: When she introduced “Drop Names Not Bombs” by saying, “This song is about industry events.”
Miscellaneous: Burns rebels against her past in pop music as a member of the band Lillix, which she co-founded when she was a tween. Her album, Mellow Drama, is, well, pretty dark. With covers of Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt, she’s trying to play with the big boys, but without the edge that comes from age.
Pre-Show Hype: Medium.
Crowd: Fair for the opening night of the festival, though despite the band’s uptempo tunes, most everyone stood and swayed. (Currie himself noted “Don’t feel like you have to stand still just because everyone else is standing still.”)
Performance: If the crowd was motionless, Currie definitely wasn’t—even while confined to the keys. The keyboard-driven sextet was also joined by a four-person brass section to add extra bop and vocals, making their eccentric lyrics seem even more whimsical.
Best Moment: Currie’s remark on the band’s dinner: “A bunch of us ate kangaroo sausages before we got here, so now it smells. I think it’s the heat, it’s wringing it out and it’s disgusting. I’m glad I shared that with you.”
Miscellaneous: Having toured Canada with Sloan in 2008 and Dan Mangan in 2009, they’re now promoting their album, Awake! You Sleepers, released in October of 2011.
Pre-Show Hype: Given that it was a “CMF Showcase” event, we expected that there would be at least some degree of hype. Such was not the case.
Crowd: Literally non-existent. Apparently the crowd peaked around 20 people earlier in the night. When we arrived at 11:30 there were only a few members of a band that had already performed, and a couple of the performers’ girlfriends around.
Performance: We came to see Burnz N Hell, who had dropped out without any announcement. We caught the tail end of a performance by an MC/DJ duo. We can’t remember if their set was any good, as the memory of how painful it was to watch them perform to a completely empty room is all that stands out.
Best Moment: Talking to different staff members about how terrible a show it was, how much money Hard Rock Cafe was losing from this show, and how brutally empty the venue was. Also, when we left.
Miscellaneous: This isn’t only the worst CMW show we’ve ever seen, it’s the worst show we have ever seen. We’d have to get assaulted by a band or something to have a worse experience—but even then we’d actually get to see a band.
Verdict: Negative Infinity/10
Pre-Show Hype: Low.
Crowd: Small but enthusiastic.
Performance: Short (the set lasted roughly 20 minutes).
Best Moment: A three-way-tie between the three moments when the solo performer took to banging and scraping an embossed pewter mug (which we initially mistook for a chalice) for percussive effect.
Miscellaneous: A reformed choir boy (repping the uber fancypants Toronto Children’s Chorus, no less), Armen at the Bazaar/Armen Bazarian still bears the pipes of his boyhood training, a distinguishing factor against the catchy but unexceptional electro-pop dance beats he sets up to back them.
Pre-Show Hype: Low.
Crowd: Itty bitty.
Best Moment: When the ponytailed sound man joined the band onstage…with his flute. (He was good.)
Miscellaneous: If the band was fazed by the tiny, end-of-the-night audience that witnessed its debut Toronto performance, then its members’ collective poker face is something to be admired.
Pre-Show Hype: Minimal. Considering that Scholte plays the venue every Wednesday from 6 to 8, booking her wasn’t exactly a coup.
Crowd: When she took the stage, there couldn’t have been more than five or six people in the place. But a few songs in, nearly all the seats in the small room were filled. It was like some sort of CMW opening-night miracle.
Performance: She should be called Kirty. That’s how she introduced herself to the audience and the name would look better on a poster. With her talented backing band, she played a brand of bluegrass-folk that alternated between tender numbers and rousing foot-stompers cut from a similar cloth. She has a feisty charm and a sweet, delicate voice that transformed nicely into a convincing growl on the faster numbers.
Best Moment: Her cover of Tom Waits’ “I Want You.” Because any injection of Waits is usually a Best Moment.
Miscellaneous: Fantastic work on guitar and mandolin by Matthew Bailey. And not a bad voice either when he stepped to lead vocals on a song he wrote.
Pre-Show Hype: Considering Callen’s work on MADTV, his small roles in both of the Hangover films, and his frequent appearances on comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan’s popular podcast, expectations were moderately high.
Crowd: Perhaps because of his affiliation with Rogan, Callen attracts a large number of MMA fans, and they were out on this evening in full force.
Performance: Callen did not disappoint. He had solid material on subjects like gays, animals gone wild, and his kids. Often, he finds unlikely and interesting angles on what could be deemed tired premises. He even managed to smack a few more laughs out of the comedy pinata that is the Canadian beaver. There are times when he does seem to play down to the lowest common denominator. But hey, a cheap laugh is still a laugh.
Best Moment: His suggestion that people get guard ostriches.
Miscellaneous: Opener Graham Chittenden warmed up the crowd nicely, even if he came down a little too hard on a thirty-year old in the audience for renting, rather than owning, a parking spot. Do people own parking spots? Is that even a thing?
Pre-Show Hype: Gloryhound hasn’t released an album since 2010’s Electric Dusk, so it seemed likely that much of the crowd had shown just because the band happened to be playing on the first night of the fest.
Crowd: There was a healthy turnout. A small crowd of excited girls danced with an alarming fervor. Many on hand looked like they were in bands or were at least thinking about starting them.
Performance: There is a very fine line between ironic and the inane. It’s the moment you realize that The Darkness were in on the joke. Gloryhound, it seems, are serious. They play a form of “stock rock” steeped in ’80s hair metal nostalgia and heavy on big, repetitive hooks that are more than often expressed in halfway-melodic shouts. The guitarist, David Casey, wore the requisite leather jacket, the drummer, Shaun Hanlon, an open jean vest. Their high energy could not make up for their unabashed penchant for a showy guitar solo or the collection of overly dramatic lyrics.
Best Moment: The drummer’s strike of a cowbell elicited an appreciative yelp from many in the audience. Thanks, Will Ferrell!
Miscellaneous: Sample ballad lyric: “Why am I stuck in the middle?/Why am I alone with the devil?”