Our roundup of the best—and in one case, the absolute worst—of CMW so far.
We’re now halfway through the 2013 edition of Canadian Music Week. Here are the shows that have impressed us so far, for whatever reason.
Pre-Show Hype: Pretty high. Hennessey’s a recognizable face and name even to those not too familiar with Toronto’s comedy scene, because of her work on Video On Trial.
Performance: Killer. As the lone female representative in the That Was Great comedy lineup (apart from co-host Amanda Brooke Perrin, whose sample tracks for the show’s theme song should qualify her for next year’s CMW as a musician), Hennessey was adorable, sweet, painfully awkward and actually pretty gross all at the same time, in the best way possible.
Best Moment: Hennessey opened and closed her set with some tips on how to be in a long-term relationship (what standup would be complete without some humblebragging), but really nailed how not to introduce yourself to your boyfriend or girlfriend’s family for the first time.
Miscellaneous: You’ll think twice about sharing a cigarette at a party after hearing Hennessey’s standup.
Verdict: There’s a reason she’s one of Toronto’s favourite comedians.
Pre-Show Hype: High. He was the headliner of the night, and a constant stream of entertaining comedy acts had kept spirits high.
Performance: Gut-busting. Forward’s tone was noticeably more downtrodden compared to the upbeat and energetic comics before him, but from the moment he busted out his ukelele to play “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol he had the audience practically gleeful.
Best Moment: Forward’s quiet, mumbled delivery is the perfect vessel for a good non sequitur.
Miscellaneous: A warning for anyone at a future Mark Forward standup performance: don’t get too emotionally involved.
Verdict: He’s a treasure. Catch him live when you can here in Toronto. But since he spends quite a bit of time touring Canada, it might be easier to get a glimpse of him on the CBC’s Mr. D, or on Twitter.
Pre-Show Hype: Fairly high. We almost didn’t get in.
Performance: Solid from start to finish.
Best Moment: While the likes of Jim Cuddy and Justin Rutledge were the bigger draws, it was the beautiful voice of Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) that really wowed us. Her “Lucky Ones,” in particular, worked like a beautiful country lullaby—one of those songs that commands every person in a bar to stop their side conversations and simply listen to something powerful.
Miscellaneous: Also worth mentioning is that Daniel Romano might be the best dressed man at all of Canadian Music Week. A pastel-blue sequined suit? Well done sir, well done. Plus, his song “Chicken Bill” plays like a double-time version of Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” which makes for a solid reminder of the rich history of country music.
Verdict: If you wanted some country twang on Wednesday night, The Horseshoe Tavern was the place to be.
Pre-Show Hype: Beyond reason. After Rihanna, CHVRCHES was probably this year’s most-hyped band. Again, we’d like to point out that the band doesn’t have an album out yet.
Performance: Pretty good. They’re not big on stage presence yet, and it’s clear they’re a little overwhelmed by the hype, but frontwoman Lauren Mayberry has a strong, clear voice, and synth players Iain Cook and Martin Doherty were able to recreate some relatively complex sounds live. The fact that the crowd already knew the words to the single, “The Mother We Share,” speaks volumes about where this band is headed.
Best Moment: They did a Prince cover as an encore. This automatically made us like them even more.
Miscellaneous: Lauren Mayberry has a masters in journalism. Wisely, she set that aside to go into the much-more-lucrative synthpop industry.
Verdict: CHVRCHES isn’t quite ready for prime time, but it’s getting there.
Pre Show Hype: Mild to moderate.
Performance: This Haligonian seven-member folk-pop outfit had plenty of people dancing to its (mostly) upbeat tunes throughout the set. The band in its entirety is very entertaining to watch. The music floats in and out of different genres, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your expectations. Regardless, SoHo Ghetto definitely has the talent to deliver an entertaining show on any given night.
Best Moment: Lead vocalist Marc-Antoine Robertson was putting on such an impressive show that he left a pool of sweat onstage.
Miscellaneous: Prior to Wednesday’s performance, the group appeared on Q107. We’re not quite sure why, seeing as how all the members are under 50.
Verdict: It’s no surprise that this band got signed immediately after its performance at last year’s CMW.
Pre-Show Hype: Nil. We were the only media outlet to mention Chip-Fu in pre-show coverage, although for what it’s worth, we were pretty excited.
Performance: Non-existent. Not only did Chip-Fu not show up, but we weren’t told that he wasn’t playing until we asked.
Best Moment: When the door guy didn’t know who Chip-Fu was, and we were told to ask “the food guy”—a man selling corn soup out of Solo cups—if he was playing.
Miscellaneous: There was a man selling corn soup out of Solo cups.
Verdict: There are no words to express how massively pissed off we were about this whole debacle. To add insult to injury, we had to pay to get in after being told that our bracelets were no good after midnight. This in spite of the fact there were 12 people in the bar.
Pre-Show Hype: Fair. Core members Zachary Gray and Tom Dobrzanski already have a following for their previous band Lotus Child. Ancient Mars, the Zolas’ new album, has gotten some decent reviews. Plus, the band was returning to Canadian soil after having played SXSW.
Performance: No glaring deficiencies, but the Zolas didn’t set the room on fire (and with the next two acts being “secret,” they were the headliners). Gray explained, between songs, that he’d spent the previous two days in bed, chugging oil of oregano to rehabilitate his voice post-SXSW.
Best Moment: The crowd was definitely animated—heads bopping, toes tapping—for the fifth song in the set, “Strange Girl.”
Miscellaneous: The band started a bit late, and might have made more of an impact with more than a 20-odd-minute set, but there were no time extensions (probably so “secret” acts Finger 11 and Treble Charger weren’t shortchanged). When Gray asked after 10:30 p.m. if the band could do two more songs, the sound tech replied sternly, “you have two minutes.”
Verdict: Catchy melodic tunes, but an off night for the under-the-weather Gray. Maybe the Zolas will rock out harder tonight (they play the Horseshoe Tavern at 8:30 p.m.)
Pre-Show Hype: Hard to say. For about nine or 10 people gathered in a crescent around the stage, it seemed like Miesha and the Spanks’ set was the high point of the night. For everyone else, the show was half early-evening mingling.
Performance: Solid, even deceptively so. You couldn’t help getting the impression that Miesha Louie was a little nervous, watching her eyes dart from her feet to the audience and back again. Still, that’s not a criticism—if nothing else, it was endearing. The combination of chunky fuzztone leading a tight, breezy rhythm brought to mind an unholy union of Sloan and Sleigh Bells, dripping with Louie’s fiery, whisky-soaked vocals. By the end of the set, knowing basically nothing about the group before we arrived, there was a moment or two of scanning the stage to make sure we hadn’t missed the bass player. That’s how powerful this shy Calgary pair’s sound became. (Louie plays with drummer Stuart Bota.)
Best Moment: Realizing that there actually was no bass player at all.
Miscellaneous: When an Alberta band plays in a Toronto bar that goes full-out for a Wild West theme, there’s always this awkward, self-conscious moment where you wonder how excruciatingly lame they think it is.
Verdict: A solid 8. Come back sooner, Louie and Bota.
Pre-Show Hype: Very enthusiastic. Around several tables, mouths were accurately singing the words.
Performance: Whenever a band with a heavy lyrical and vocal element starts singing wistful, longing songs, a comparison to Bruce Springsteen is inevitable. We found ourselves making one early in this show, drawing mental references to The Gaslight Anthem, for example. Acres of Lions were definitely the apex of the evening’s energy. Dreamily reverbed guitar was alight. Keyboards, sparingly laced throughout, sparkled. The production values, sound quality, and even the overall confidence of vocalist Jeffrey Kalesnikoff were evidence that this band, going on its fourth, certainly knows what the hell it’s doing. “Fuck it, I know we’re pretty loud,” Kalesnikoff laughed at one point, “but I kinda like it.”
Best Moment: Recognizing that there indeed is a West Coast sound that doesn’t immediately conjure up thoughts of Jack Johnson.
Miscellaneous: While caught in the reverie we refer to under “Best Moment,” suddenly the band started singing a chorus that went, “may all roads lead you home.” (This writer is from British Columbia.) Get out of our heads, Acres of Lions.
Verdict: 8 or 8.5.
Pre-Show Hype: Very little outside of the Korean community.
Performance: With an odd mix of ‘90s pop-punk and ‘80s pop-metal, a frontman charismatic enough to break through the language barrier, and the sort of cohesiveness that can only come from spending more than a decade as a band, No Brain was one of the best things we’ve seen all week.
Best Moment: When vocalist Bulldaegal attempted to teach the non-Koreans in the crowd a smattering of phonetic Korean so they could sing along, too.
Miscellaneous: At least two girls in the audience had full-on Beatlemania-style freakouts, while one male audience member demanded multiple sweaty bro-hugs.
Verdict: No Brain is basically our new favourite band.
Pre-Show Hype: Pretty good. The Great Hall had filled up, and the milling crowd surged to the front as the band began its set five minutes early.
Performance: The half-dozen uniformly dressed men on stage were playing to the balcony, alright. The Great Hall’s a fairly large space, and they filled it with impassioned anthems, grand gestures (there were a lot of arms in the air), and a lot of sweat left on the stage.
Miscellaneous: The boys are still wearing all black with yellow armbands. Oh, and lead singer Dean Povinsky dedicated one song “to NOW Magazine.” (Where’s Torontoist‘s shout-out, Dean?)
Verdict: Showmen with a new quiver full of sweeping tunes. They may not quite be ready for a stadium, but large halls, no problem.
Pre-Show Hype: About half of the midnight crowd at the Dakota was there to see The Mohawk Lodge, we’d say.
Performance: Holy hell, this was what a wall of sound is actually meant to accomplish. Somehow, the Canadian Music Week pressers and brochures describe The Mohawk Lodge as “psychedelic,” and sure, we guess? There’s certainly a cerebral element to the way the band’s set began, vocals crying out against the soup-thick echo reverb of guitar—like a voice at the bottom of a well, we thought. Eventually, the guitar took over, the bass of its low fifth chords hammering every chest in the crowd. The dark, cowboy-esque singing was vaguely psychedelic, but overall, this set brought to mind more of the experimentation heard in ’90s-era rock, especially the sort we heard locally. Fugazi meets The Skydiggers.
Best Moment: We can’t remember the title for the life of us, but one track in particular stood out as an especially eerie tribute to our beautiful mess of a city. Like a slow waltz, it was a sonic enshrinement of what Toronto’s own urban wilderness can be—the wee-hour homeward wanderings, the desolate laneways.
Miscellaneous: There’s probably a headbanging-to-navelgazing ratio that, if tipped in favour of the former, disqualifies a band from using the label “psychedelic.” To The Mohawk Lodge’s credit, we think it falls on the headbanging side of that divide.