Canadian Music Week 2016: hits and misses in the fest’s second half

Skepta, NAO and Fat White Family hugely impress

WHITE LUNG at the Velvet Underground, Friday, May 6. Rating: NNN

White Lung’s CMW show was the same day as the release of their new album, Paradise. While it was a thrill to witness the new material before almost anybody else – along with quite a bit from 2014’s Deep Fantasy – you could tell the live show isn’t yet on lock. Momentum was halting (a bass drum pedal had to be fixed, for one), but it didn’t detract from Mish Way’s commanding presence. Her voice was a powerful howl, and her moves intense and riveting. You couldn’t look away.     Carla Gillis (@carlagillis)

SKEPTA at Danforth Music Hall, Friday, May 6. Rating: NNNN

The British rapper arrived in Toronto under auspicious circumstances: straight from Tokyo for a sold-out gig on the day his debut album, Konnichiwa, was released. His speedy staccato rhymes are no-bullshit and same goes for his stage show: the set was heavy on bangers that had the audience reaching for the ceiling. Chipmunk and Boy Better Know label mates Shorty and Jammer took turns on the mic, but Skepta’s impressively fluid MCing made it clear why he’s grime’s breakout star.     Kevin Ritchie (@kevinritchie)

FAT WHITE FAMILY at Lee’s Palace, Friday, May 6. Rating: NNNN

Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi appeared onstage in a fringed cowboy shirt, a plastic bag full of Red Bull in his hand and an impudent leer frozen on his face. He spent much of the ensuing 45 minutes delivering on that vile aura: shirtless, screeching, flailing and tossing drinks at the crowd (who tossed them back) as the rich, loud bass rhythms and dual-guitar attack swirling around him transformed the British band’s pretty ditties into gale-force rock ’n’ roll.     KR

NAO at the Mod Club, Friday, May 6. Rating: NNNNN

East London’s neo-soul phenom lit up a packed Mod Club for her headlining slot, managing to blow buzzy openers Bonzai and Mura Masa out of the water (and they were no slouches). The recently Pitchfork Best New Music-certified singer was dazzling, pinballing between sublime vocal runs with impressive, high-energy dance moves. When she came out for her encore – mega-hit Bad Blood – the crowd collectively lost it. She’s destined for big, big things. 

Matt Williams (@mattgeewilliams)

HANNAH GEORGAS at the Horseshoe, Friday, May 6. Rating: NNN

Whenever you spot Julie Fader onstage, you know you’re in for something special. At CMW, the local backup-music-to-the-indie-stars (and solo artist in her own right) lent her harmonizing talents to Hannah Georgas’s Dine Alone showcase, and their blended voices were everything despite a sound-mix battle. Toronto-based Georgas releases third album For Evelyn this summer, and the packed house was privy to new songs shaped around innovative arrangements, synth pop hooks, tight rhythms and silken vocals. And with Christine Bougie on guitar, we couldn’t be more excited.    CG

ABOVE TOP SECRET at Painted Lady, Saturday, May 7. Rating: NNN

The scene at Painted Lady just before local hip-hop trio Above Top Secret’s 1 am set: a woman dancing on the bar in lingerie and nipple pasties as a DJ reminded tipsy partiers just how satisfying the sub-bass sounded on all those Bad Boy Records classics. MCs SunSun and Ayo Leilani’s dubby and deconstructed beats, jazzy singing and political rhymes about police brutality and chemtrails proved slightly more challenging for the late-night party crowd. Interesting sound, wrong venue.     KR

AMIR OBE at the Mod Club, Saturday, May 7. Rating: NN

Detroit-via-Brooklyn MC Amir Obe is the latest act to capitalize on the moody melancholy and rattling trap bass pairing that’s sweeping R&B and hip-hop. It’s a claustrophobic sound that also feels really cookie-cutter, and his live show – which featured shadowy lighting and backing tracks on his lead vocals that were louder than his mic – did nothing to transcend the formula. Accordingly, the audience at the eclectic WayHome Festival-curated showcase looked downright comatose.     KR


Matt Williams

WALRUS at the Rivoli, Saturday, May 7. Rating: NNN

Walrus, who recently signed to Dan Mangan’s Madic Records for their latest EP, Goodbye Something, charmed the Rivoli crowd with their sweet and loose melodies and jangly guitar licks. The shaggy Halifax four-piece pulls a lot of tricks from the Beatles’ late-60s psychedelia, but filters it through a 90s-indebted love of six-string heaviness. It’s a combination that had the mostly East Coast crowd hootin’ and hollerin’ for more.    MW

HUMANS at Mod Club, Saturday, May 7. Rating: NNN

Vancouver indie electronic duo Humans have become increasingly influenced by house and techno, and their current show has the feel of a DJ set. Songs transition smoothly into one another, and instrumental sections get extended and manipulated. If you weren’t paying close attention, you might not have even noticed when they moved from their live performance setup to their DJ rig to close out the night.     Benjamin Boles (@benjaminboles)

LA SERA at the Garrison on Sunday, May 8. Rating: NNNN 

It was a quiet turnout at the Garrison, but that didn’t stop L.A. indie rockers La Sera from bringing surprises to the final night of CMW. Frontwoman (and ex-Vivian Girl) Katy Goodman and guitarist Todd Wisenbaker finished off bluesy new song I Need An Angel with a rollicking tease of Led Zeppelin’s How Many More Times. They then launched into a full-out cover of Whole Lotta Love, which gave Wisenbaker the chance to show off his nimble guitar playing. Goodman, though, isn’t one to be showed up. Toward the end of the hour-long set, she jammed out in the middle of the crowd, eventually rolling onto her back as a small circle of fans formed around her.  SAMANTHA EDWARDS (@SamEdwardsTO


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