The second half of CMW featured a little bit of everything—and by "everything" we mean rowdy jazz, couples crowdsurfing, and terrible awards-show jokes.
Now that Canadian Music Week is over, here are reviews of the shows we managed to see in the last three days of the festival. Most of them were pretty good.
Pre-Show Hype: High. The Indies are arguably the centerpiece of CMW.
Performance: Very mixed. On the one hand, most of the bands put on great performances. Metric showed why it’s one of Canada’s most successful bands with a tight, dynamic set. Diamond Rings and Cold Specks cemented their status as two of the brighter young lights in the country’s music scene. And, despite being given an almost disrespectfully short set, Cadence Weapon managed to bring his trademark high-energy stage presence. (Matt Mays also played. We seriously do not understand the appeal of Matt Mays. Can anyone explain it to us?)
On the other hand, the actual awards show was almost alarmingly bad. Host/SiriusXM Canada Programming Director Jeff Leake dropped a series of jokes that were either lead-balloon unfunny or incredibly sexist. (At one point he claimed to have groped a member of Hunter Valentine, and implied that most of the audience would like to have sex with Carly Rae Jepsen.) On top of that, the awards were almost comically un-indie. Artists like Jepsen, Taylor Swift, and Mumford and Sons all won things, although none of them were on hand to accept.
Best Moment: French-language Emerging Artist of the Year winners Canailles, who infuse traditional Quebecois folk music with a punk-like energy and alternating male-female vocals. They were almost completely unknown to the Anglophone crowd when they went on the stage, but had earned dozens, possibly hundreds, of new fans by the time they were done.
Miscellaneous: Cold Specks is a great singer, but seemingly terrified of speaking in public. She responded to winning Female Artist of the Year by saying about three words and power walking off stage.
Verdict: This is an awards show without a purpose. When you’re called “The Indies,” but many of your winners are major-label-backed megastars, you need to rethink what you’re doing.
Pre-Show Hype: Very, very high. The Canadian debut of this British all-girl post-punk rock foursome was one of the buzziest events of all Canadian Music Week. The Horseshoe was packed tight, even though the group’s first full-length album isn’t due out until May.
Performance: In a rare occurrence, the real thing lived up to the hype. Dressed in matching all-black attire, the group rocked the Shoe with their highly acclaimed A-side tracks “Flying to Berlin” and “Husbands” (a high-energy finale), along with other highlights like “She Will” and “Shut Up.” Lead singer Jehnny Beth bellowed, wailed, and intensely glared at the crowd, while guitarist Gemma Thompson looked straight at the ground, bassist Ayse Hassan kept her eyes closed completely, and drummer Fay Milton was lost in whatever mental state lets her move her arms that much. They weren’t much for stage banter, but that would have only gotten in the way of the music.
Best Moment: Jehnny Beth’s finale to “I Am Here” will go down in the books.
Miscellaneous: As one particularly vocal fan professed his love for each of the Savages, we caught only one eye roll, from Beth.
Verdict: Savagely cool.
Pre-Show Hype: Heavy. Demarco’s 2012 solo LP debut, 2, was critically acclaimed, and his live shows are already notorious: Exclaim described them as “raunchfests.”
Performance: Demarco didn’t disappoint. More happened in his 40-minute set than in a day at most festivals. There was stage diving, crowdsurfing, and moshing. A fistfight broke out briefly, and one of his band members was ejected by security, near the end, for lighting up on stage. Through it all, Demarco remained chipper and composed. He battled through early feedback to deliver a great show.
Best Moment: For his set closer, “Together,” Demarco pulled a woman out of the crowd, serenaded her, made out with her, and eventually crowdsurfed with her while locked in a tight embrace. Fans probably recognized her as longtime girlfriend “Sweet Kiki,” but most in the crowd (including us, at the time) probably assumed she was a random fan.
Miscellaneous: There were several covers in the set, including Weezer’s “Undone: The Sweater Song,” a medley of Ramstein’s “Du Hast,” Rob Zombie’s “Dragula,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and BTO’S “Takin’ Care of Business.” Demarco made them his own with expletive-laced verses.
Verdict: Demarco’s a consummate entertainer, and he’ll be back in Toronto soon, no doubt. Unless you’re put off by dirty jokes, we’d highly recommend attending.
Pre-Show Hype: High. With Savages’ second CMW show at midnight and Suuns taking the stage at 1 a.m., the lineup outside Lee’s Palace formed early. It’s been a while since Toronto got a live show from our favourite Montreal psychedelic-electronic-rock band, and it has been missed.
Performance: Suuns still delivers one incredible live show. The band’s layered, twisted, and distorted melodies seem to emanate directly from the bodies of members Ben Shemie, Joe Yarmush, Max Henry, and Liam O’Neill. Their set list included some new songs from their sophomore album, Images du futur (like “20/20” and “Edie’s Dream”), but it focused mainly on oldies (if tracks from 2010 count as oldies) like “Up Past the Nursery,” “Arena,” “Pie IX,” “Armed for Peace,” and “PVC.”
Best Moment: After what felt like an incredibly short set, the audience erupted into cheers for an encore there was no time for. The applause would probably still be happening if Yarmush hadn’t told everyone to stop.
Miscellaneous: Lead singer Shemie and keyboardist/guitarist Henry could probably duel for weirdest face while playing music. Shemie would win.
Verdict: Still a band that will confuse you while delighting you and also turning you on.
Pre-Show Hype: Less than deserved. Blood Ceremony is always completely captivating live, with an incomparable energy and vibe. The group deserves far more mainstream recognition.
Performance: Great. Blood Ceremony has a strong, inimitable aesthetic, which was showcased brilliantly at this show. Fat, fuzzy riffs and urgent bass lines drove the energy forward, while frontwoman Alia O’Brien commanded the set with her extraordinary charisma. As much ritual as performance, Blood Ceremony’s time on stage proved conclusively that there need to be more flute solos at metal shows.
Best Moment: The extraordinary rendition of “My Demon Brother,” delivered with a snarl and a wink.
Miscellaneous: This show was solid proof that ’70s-inspired occult rock, mixed with a little doom metal heaviness, can be an irresistible combination in the right hands.
Verdict: Excellent. The members of Blood Ceremony are inveterate show-stealers, going for broke at every single live performance. This was no exception.
Pre-Show Hype: Solid. This show served as the consolation prize for everyone who didn’t manage to get tickets to Nick Cave. It didn’t disappoint.
Performance: Very Good. Clad in a boiler suit, Katie Stelmanis was unquestionably the focal point of the night. She split her time between the keyboard and the mic, filling the Danforth Music Hall with her soaring, ethereal vocals. Austra played several new tracks, and the effervescent energy and swirling complexity of them speaks very well of the group’s forthcoming album, Olympia. It was a dark, dramatic, and entirely compelling set.
Best Moment: During a performance of Austra’s fantastic new single, “Home,” Blood Ceremony’s Alia O’Brien joined the band on stage.
Miscellaneous: While electronic music often gets dismissed for being light and airy, Austra served as an excellent example of a moody, spooky, and compelling take on the genre.
Verdict: At once dark and celebratory, Austra generated a great deal of buzz for their sophomore effort while also casting a dark and dazzling spell over the audience.
Pre-Show Hype: With Woods’s third EP (Don’t Get Too Grand) dropping tomorrow, there was a palpable feeling that this was sort of an ad-hoc release party, at least for several of the audience members already seated in the Central’s main space. Of course, that sense of devotion faded as soon as the upstairs crowd worked its way toward the bar, ordering shots at the top of their Saturday-night lungs. During quiet, intimate acoustic sets like Woods’s, some Toronto audiences need to figure out the difference between “inside voice” and “outside voice.”
Performance: Smooth, tight, and in many ways, fluidly emotional. Woods is the kind of singer-songwriter who can actually make a song about drinking gasoline come across as a narrative about human vulnerability; not a joke. That said, humour remains an important part of Woods’s performances. He laces his country and folk stylings with sarcastic, dry asides.
Best Moment: Watching Woods get into it with a few of the louder, more boisterous audience members in attendance. He laughed warmly when a guy took a shot, threw up the “horns,” and told the singer that he was “killing it.”
Miscellaneous: In the two years since NOW Magazine voted Donovan Woods Toronto’s best singer-songwriter, the Sarnia-bred performer has yet to live that honour down.
Verdict: Woods came off as a slightly more polished version of Damien Jurado, another singer-songwriter with a knack for making dark, occasionally painful themes very palatable. Definitely an 8, and that’s being a little conservative.
Pre-Show Hype: Well, let’s just put it this way: with the lineup snaking around the front of the Horseshoe Tavern, we very nearly didn’t get in—and we heard more than a few of our line-mates saying how much it would suck to miss BadBadNotGood.
Performance: Some of the best CMW shows introduce you to new performers entirely. We’re a little ashamed to admit that this was our first time seeing the group live since it formed at Humber College in 2010. It eventually became clear that these three young hip-hop and jazz afficionados clearly inhabit their own category, top to bottom.
Best Moment: Evidence of the above: when the stagediving began.
Miscellaneous: BadBadNotGood? More like GoodGoodVeryExcellent.
Verdict: We’d tell you to go see these guys immediately before they blow the hell up, but considering the group’s recent collaborations with performers like Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and Frank Dukes, we’re late to that party. This performance was a 9.
Pre-Show Hype: Medium. People definitely knew he was coming, but it’s hard to tell how excited they were about it.
Performance: oOoOO stands up fairly well in live performance. He’s not a crowd-hyping, hands-above-your head type of producer, but his sound is impressive when recreated live through a club’s PA system. His Southern hip-hop influences also become even more apparent when you see him in person. (At times the set was less witch house and more molasses-slow trap music.)
Best Moment: When people began rapping along with the vocal sample in “CoachBagg.”
Miscellaneous: oOoOO’s performance was inexplicably tacked on to the Indie Montreal showcase.
Verdict: oOoOO may be hard to Google, but it’s still worth checking out.
Pre-Show Hype: High. Caila Thompson-Hannant had just had a strong showing at SXSW, and the buzz over her new Hello EP is constant, spearheaded by Pitchfork and local blog Silent Shout (who were producing the showcase she was headlining here).
Performance: Much improved since we first saw her at NXNE 2012. Then, she was playing great (though bare-bones) tunes, but much of Thompson-Hannant’s focus at that time was on the tech in front of her. With the backing tracks fleshed out, this time she spent much more of her set dancing. She expressed this new confidence between songs, as well, giving the crowd tips: “If you’re liked by your friends, you should like yourself.”
Best Moment: “Who wants to dance onstage with me? It’s sexy dancing, though.” A half dozen enthusiastic grinders formed the backdrop for a new Mozart’s Sister tune about buying duty free when depressed.
Miscellaneous: “Who wants to be on my new record?” The audience cheers lustily. “Yes, that will suffice for a sample.”
Verdict: Great fun, and still on our must-see list.
Pre-Show Hype: When we finally made it into the Horseshoe, nearly every conversation we could overhear fixed in some way on the boys from Edmonton, Shout Out Out Out Out. Their shows, we gathered, are the musical equivalent of mountain climbing or something: everybody we spoke with referred to a past concert, the buckets of sweat they left on the ground at that performance, the volume, and how this show was going to compare to that last musical summiting, so to speak. The buzz was definitely more of a tectonic rumbling.
Performance: Every band frontman will tell local audiences that the show he just played was the best of the tour, like clockwork. But when members of Shout told their CMW Saturday night crowd that they had been on tour for a month, and that this was the single best night yet, you got the feeling they were being sincere. Maybe it was the hoarse, elated exhaustion with which it was said, or maybe it was the fact that one of the band’s two drummers was wearing an audience member’s clothes. Whatever the case, Shout called Toronto their “home away from home.” In those terms, their grateful toast to the crowd from the stage at the Horseshoe really did seem like a drink between friends.
Best Moment: There were two, really. On the stage, Shout in all its bass-slamming, synth-heavy glory. On the floor, a mosh pit, occasionally shirtless. It’s like Saturday night at the Horseshoe reached a critical mass the moment Shout went up, and nobody recovered. Not even the band.
Miscellaneous: At one point, Shout apologized to the crowd for the relative shortness of their CMW set. We get the sneaking suspicion they were forgiven.
Verdict: Fuck it, 10.
Pre-Show Hype: Medium. Boy escaped the attention of most Toronto media previews, but the group’s show still filled the Dakota to capacity with an energetic crowd that head-bopped and mouthed the words along to the folk tunes of Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass.
Performance: These girls have charm. Supported by a backup guitarist who added some extra power from an electric instrument at times, the adorable duo kept their audience enthralled, even joining in for sing-alongs, late on a Sunday night after a long week of concert hopping. Tracks like “Drive Darling,” “Skin,” and “Little Numbers” sounded like tunes you might hear down on the farm in Kentucky, rather than in metropolitan Europe.
Best Moment: Boy surprised us with a stripped-down version of “Lonely Boy,” by The Black Keys, that rivaled the original. Good music and wordplay. We’re in love.
Miscellaneous: Besides being good musicians, both Valeska and Sonja had great accents.
Verdict: Boy was one of our favourite CMW surprises this year.
Pre-Show Hype: Not bad. The fact that Pick a Piper’s Brad Weber drums for Caribou certainly didn’t hurt, and the upcoming self-titled LP release in April has people interested.
Performance: We’re at a bit of a loss to describe it, but we liked it. It was dark and driving, and there were definitely some jazz influences—especially in the numbers featuring trombone and saxophone. Performance-wise, though, it’d be a good idea not to have the two vocalists/keyboard players facing each other. Neither ever made eye contact with the crowd, and we had to watch lips to tell who was singing sometimes.
Best Moment: We’ve gotta go with when three of the band members were playing percussion.
Miscellaneous: At one point in the set, an enchanted audience member reached out and stroked the side of the saxophone.
Verdict: Pick a Piper is playing its album release party at the Rivoli on April 13th. We’d recommend it, and may even go ourselves.
Pre-Show Hype: Fairly solid. The fact that they played a show the night before at Wrongbar, and apparently killed it, certainly didn’t hurt.
Performance: Singer/drummer/synth player Shannon Funchess was a weird, kinetic machine, making crazy performance faces, leaving her post to dance and occasionally humping a monitor. Her voice managed to go from growl, to screech, to operatic tenor. The hard, driving beats were equal parts industrial, ’80s synthpop and early ’90s rave. Everyone in attendance lost their minds with joy, dancing up a storm and occasionally picking each other up.
Best Moment: Probably when Funchess abandoned sticks entirely and began punching her digital drum kit.
Miscellaneous: Funchess ended the set by saying, “Thank you, Canadians.”
Verdict: We’ve been listening to Light Asylum all morning. Why aren’t you listening to them right now?