The good and the bad on the fourth night of Canadian Music Week.
Reports on a few CMW favourites, from a Saturday night sparkling with talent.
Pre-show hype: Low to medium. From the court After Runnymede—a.k.a. Christien Paul, with Eliza Niemi on cello—were holding at Central, it’s hard to say if these were CMW seekers or regular followers of After Runnymede’s work. Judging from the acclaim following this act around, though, either is equally likely.
Crowd: Like an audience assembled to hear a spoken-word performance or a poetry slam. There was an 8:15 influx of the Totally Into Doing Jagr Bombs and Whooping Inappropriately During a Relatively Quiet Set crowd, but to their credit, they bailed pretty quickly once every last pair of eyes started shooting lasers at them.
Performance: Easy, casual, laid back. Paul told the full, rapt house several times that he hadn’t slept, and that he may put everyone else to sleep as a result. Not so. Beginning with a minimalist arrangement of keyboards, drum machines, and an irresistibly mournful undercurrent of cello laid down by Niemi, the first few songs played out like a soundtrack, crackling with the sort of dark intensity you could imagine haunting a Runnymede laneway after hours. The performance then shifted to the warm, acoustic tones highlighted on After Runnymede’s debut compilation. Arresting, deeply literate, and beautifully personal, the thought that kept returning is that this performance was like the musical equivalent of a good read.
Best moment: Being at Central during Saturday primetime and not shouting at a lung-busting pitch. Also, every moan of Niemi’s smooth strings.
Miscellaneous: Talking to Paul after the show, the name “After Runnymede” comes from something very familiar to everyone who lives in the Junction: the use of Runnymede as a signpost to determine your east-west bearings in the neighbourhood. This is an artist who wears Toronto proudly.
Pre-Show Hype: Low. The big-in-Spain-but-unknown-here dance pop ensemble was brought into the fest as part of the Sounds of Spain showcase.
Crowd: Small and comprised almost entirely of Spanish music industry people.
Performance: Despite a modest crowd size, front man Bigott (yes, both the lead singer and the band are called Bigott), led his group with kooky stage moves and trancelike devotion.
Best Moment: In the finale, when keyboardist Paco Loco started thrashing his instrument back and forth on the stage with such violence that audience members began to whisper in concern.
Miscellaneous: The video above contains some subtle nudity.
Pre-Show Hype: Low-ish. Although they were certainly the most prominent act in the Music Nova Scotia Showcase line-up, the group did have a later performance scheduled at the Horseshoe. It was assumed that this might likely be treated as a warm-up of sorts before another of the more chaotic shows that have characterized the later start times.
Crowd: The event seemed to attract a lot of industry types. There were enough graying and balding heads on display that the very large man with the neck tattoo seemed out of place. Also spotted on hand were Chris Murphy and Patrick Pentland of Sloan.
Performance: If the band was indeed tuning up for their midnight slot, then the operation should have been considered a success. Lead singer Paul Murphy’s voice was a fluttering nasal wail that proved capable of climbing to Thom Yorke heights, even breaking through on several occasions into Aaron Neville territory. Driven by syncopated rhythms and persuasive hooks, they earned in their best songs—and there are quite a few of them—any comparisons to the dense work of Travis or even golden-era REM.
Best Moment: The song “Weighty Ghost” was a shuffling, anthemic wonder.
Miscellaneous: The evening was sponsored by Delta Hotels, which may have accounted for the stuffier vibe.
Pre-Show Hype: Low. Similar to Bigott, folk troubador Gonzalez is a renowned artist in his native Spain whose Canadian appearance wasn’t exactly loaded with festival buzz.
Crowd: Attentive, devoted, and slightly international. Actual Torontonians (!) were present for his set.
Performance: Gonzalez, accompanied onstage by a second guitar and nothing more, delivered his lyrical tales of love and memory like delicious secrets.
Best Moment: When the artist launched into “Salitre,” a song from his second album, that sent the audience cheering and singing along.
Miscellaneous: Despite a limited comfort with the English language, Gonzalez made repeated efforts to address the crowd between songs, for which we must give him props.
Pre-Show Hype: Low
Crowd: Largely disinterested 20-year-olds, peppered with a few more mature C’est What patrons irate that they had to pay to be in the live music room. With tables going right up the stage, the venue wasn’t really set up to allow the keeners to get to the front. It was a bit of a vibe-killer.
Performance: Surprisingly strong. After reading the band’s bio, which goes on about how self-deprecating they are, one could be fooled into believing they were a huge bummer. In fact, they were quite chipper about their self-dislike, leading a sound accurately described by Torontoist photographer Corbin Smith as a “Weezer and Dashboard Confessional collaboration project.”
Best Moment: When rapper Kid Twist performed with them. This show was billed as Danger Bees featuring Kid Twist, but we really weren’t expecting for him to only do one song. (Rappin, rappin’, rappin’… All we ever think about it rappin’.)
Miscellaneous: When Kid Twist asked the lazy crowd to put their hands up (several times), only one guy did; presumably his dad.
Pre-Show Hype: High. It was the final night of Young Lions Music Club’s Artist Select Series, with Brendan Canning hand-picking the bill, and the Balconies, recently home from SXSW, already have a reputation for a great live show.
Crowd: Swelled considerably after openers Husky (who played to a small house due to rain and the unenviable early slot), at least partly due to the Balconies’ own following. Started out a bit anchored to the floor, but got progressively more animated as the band’s set progressed and Jacquie Neville told us “I want to make you sweat!”
Performance: The Balconies are better every time we see them, especially guitarist/lead singer Jacquie Neville. A charismatic performer to begin with, she’s developed an even more kinetic stage presence since we saw the band last, adding some furious headbanging and hair-flinging to her stage repertoire.
Best Moment: Jacquie’s “mark time” high knee marching on the spot during Stephen Neville and drummer Liam Jaeger’s shared vocal lines on “Serious Bedtime,” like some possessed rock ‘n’ roll fitness instructor.
Miscellaneous: With their newer material, the band’s become less poppy and more ferocious, reminding us of London hard-rock outfit the Duke Spirit.
Pre-Show Hype: Low.
Crowd: Sparse but increasingly enthusiastic as the band played on. One Bill-Gates-esque guy was having the best hour of his life, waving his arms in the air and flailing joyously through every song.
Performance: These loveable French scamps could do no wrong. With just a guitar, drums, and some sort of synthesizer, young Parisians Pierre Leroux and Victor Le Masne produced extremely full-sounding electro-noise-pop. Their live sound appeared much darker than their recorded music, but that suited us just fine. By the end of their show, several Torontonians were actually full-on dancing. No joke.
Best Moment: Pierre ending the show by shredding La Marseillaise so hard, Jimi Hendrix–style.
Miscellaneous: Great bonus features: Their winsome personalities, Victor’s Eurotrash moustache, and the visible outline of Pierre’s penis on his tight jeans.
Pre-Show Hype: Medium. People are still figuring out who and what ALX is.
Crowd: Marginally smaller than for the Balconies, and shrunk a bit more after ALX opened their set with a quiet build (a tactical error, considering they were sandwiched between two hard rock outfits.)
Performance: After an assured debut performance last week at the Drake Hotel, ALX suffered the sophomore curse for their second live show, battling through some feedback and sound issues. We still love the powerhouse female vocal line-up of Allie Hughes and backing performers Kelly McMichael and Maddy Wilde, and Hughes’ material is just as catchy in this new synth-pop set-up, but they’re still figuring out how to use it to get people to dance.
Best Moment: Hughes’ leap and shriek of joy when the synth cut back in midway through “I Will Love You More.” (They’d had to do one verse and chorus with just vocals and drums.)
Miscellaneous: A few outlets have branded ALX as a complete re-invention of Allie Hughes, but it’s not a radical change in direction for her, currently using several of the songs from her EP. It seems to be a swap of guitars and bass for synth and more keyboards, and with the success of outfits like Austra, it’s a savvy re-branding on Hughes’ part, one we hope results in a long-awaited debut LP.
Pre-Show Hype: Considering that Inbreds reunion shows are few and far between—the band last graced a Toronto stage seven years ago—the buzz was palpable.
Crowd: It was a suitably full house for the occasion. Many were clearly devout fans, singing along to every lyric and shouting requests for countless obscure songs from deep in the catalog.
Performance: The quirky drum-and-bass duo, revered aftershocks of the initial Halifax Pop Explosion in the early ’90s, cycled through choice cuts from their four cult albums. As always, drummer Dave Ullrich played straight man to the brilliant eccentricity of Mike O’Neill—at least until Ullrich emerged dressed as Elvis for the encore. It was downright thrilling to have the pleasure to hear underrated gems like “Any Sense of Time” and “Never be the Same” again.
Best Moment: At one point O’Neill, no doubt caught up in a sweet bass groove, decided to explore the stage. It ended hilariously when he inadvertently unplugged his instrument.
Miscellaneous: O’Neill seemed flattered and a little perplexed by the hearty reception, at one point remarking, “I really don’t understand why so many people are paying attention.”
Pre-Show Hype: Low.
Crowd: A dwindling late-night mix of Montrealers who knew the band, plus some curious and hearty others.
Performance: Hilarious and so fun! Qualité Motel, apparently a side project of the members of Misteur Valaire, consists of four guys on various machines, and one who occasionally raps. The music included remixes of classic “hits” such as 1999’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” Beck, and klezmer-influenced melodies all thrown together with weighty beats that made it impossible not to jump up.
Best Moment: When they were performing. Worst moment: When a guy from the El Mo tried to take their drinks from them, and a Qualité Motel dude playfully pushed him off the stage. The bar staff quickly cut the microphones and turned the lights on, ending the show at 2:30 a.m. Everyone in the bar began booing the staff, but it was not enough to resume the good times.
Miscellaneous:These hilarious dudes seemed to have taken a cue from Moses with their attire, with two clad in flowing man-dresses. There was also a guy dressed like he was about to go out for a power-walk with Liz Taylor (think crinkly Hermès jacket), and another in tight, short tear-away pants and a tight, black vest. They looked effing cool.
Duke Spirit are from London, not Detroit as we originally wrote, and Housse de Racket had drums, not bass. We’ve revised accordingly, and regret the errors.