Over The Top: Stand By Me, Randy Newman
Even though the Toronto Indie Pop Festival became the Over The Top Festival a long time ago, Thursday night’s show at the Whippersnapper Gallery would have fit in easily with the former name. With three bands on the bill, it was a short blast of sweet songs that got the fest off to a good start.
The first act on the bill was local four-piece Great Bloomers who quickly impressed the small crowd with a tight set of finely crafted songs that had hooks to spare. Everything about their set seemed effortless and the four members were always musically in synch, even with the odd instrument switch or two. The songs were more than just three-chord write offs, occasionally spiced up with a hint of country to them. Their closer “Catching Up” showed that they still have to mature with their lyrics, but the overall quality of their songs was very impressive. To no surprise, they included a Daniel Johnston cover in their set, handing the audience tambourines and maracas to help out with “Happy Time.” It probably won’t be the last Daniel Johnston cover heard throughout the weekend.
Next up were Brampton’s Five Blank Pages who were, um, another four-piece who played pop-rock. See the pattern? Unfortunately, the Pages couldn’t match the musical quality and enthusiasm of Great Bloomers, so their set was more than a tad flat. Noyan Hilmi (pictured) is a fine vocalist and guitar player, but his songs sound a little too forced to go down easy. The female harmonies were often lost in the mix, as well as the keyboard. Luckily bassist Rajiv Thavanathan has some interesting dance moves which injected some fun into the set, unlike his corny jokes. Even encouraging audience participation by also handing out percussion instruments couldn’t get people into their songs.
The headliners for the night, and the band that everyone was obviously waiting for, was Maryland’s Page France, who are usually five members strong, but are sadly only playing Over The Top and the rest of their Canadian dates as a two-piece. Michael Nau has an impressive ability to write consistently sweet acoustic-pop songs, but without the extra texture of the full band, the songs were too sugary and began to blend together in a caramelized haze. The soft delivery of Nau doesn’t help this, making the songs easily and rapidly consumable.
The songs were a mix of the band’s small catalogue, including tunes “The Ruby Ring Man” and “Hat And Rabbit” from their new disc, …And The Family Telephone, which comes out May 8th. It was no surprise that older songs “Junkyard” and “Chariot” were the songs that people came out to see, and they appropriately got the loudest cheers. They also worked in a cover of Randy Newman’s “Beehive State” and Ben E. Kings’ “Stand By Me” for good measure and dedicated a song to the Raptors’ struggling forward Chris Bosh, adding, “We’re rooting for you.” They’re playing the Tranzac on Saturday afternoon, but we’d recommend waiting till they come back to Toronto in July with a full band.
Over The Top continues throughout the rest of the weekend, so be sure to check out their website to see what else is going on.