Wednesday, March 7
Making the painful pilgrimage beneath highways, on foot across the thin surface of the frozen lake and out to the Docks wasn't worth the pathetic payoff called the Indie Awards. Stubbornly in its seventh year, the "Indies" are an irrelevant ceremony, and one so intensely lame that a win could actually hurt an artist's/group's career. That said, congratulations go out to the night's big winners, Alexisonfire , who swept up not one, but two hallowed maroon electric guitars.
It's not that we don't suspect Thom Yorke was inconsolably crushed to lose out to Arctic Monkeys in the favourite international album category. We'd just believe it so much more had he or any of his fellow nominees shown up.
As stipulated in their contract, CMW's top MySpace friends, Aussie Led Zep wannabes Wolfmother , were on hand to perform and also to pick up a favourite international artist/group of the year award. The Wolf band's Indie Awards triumph was touching for proving that just because you're signed to a major like Interscope doesn't mean you can't be considered indie. Please, just show up. That's the most important thing - to boost the cred of what CMW's website bravely refers to as "the Grammys of the indie scene."
Host Jully Black raised eyebrows with her amazingly crass patter, lending a certain je ne sais quoi to the evening with her played-out Borat references, rectal comedy, awkward allusions to her wig and feigned excitement for nominees, performers and the night in general.
Token urban category winner Cadence Weapon overcame microphone problems while looking all grown up in his bright red suspenders. Frontman Forrest Kline of California-based performers Hellogoodbye sang into a dead microphone for the first half of their song, until they awkwardly re-started halfway through. In all, the Indies came off like CMW wanted to have an awards ceremony but didn't really think beyond that - for the seventh year in a row.
Thursday, March 8
From a programming perspective, moving Canadian Music Week closer to the start of the South By Southwest Music Festival may have been a way to catch some buzz bands from overseas on their way to Austin, but it didn't do much to boost foot traffic around the clubs during the three-day blitz.
Even the well-publicized Under Byen show at the Mod Club , ostensibly one of CMW's biggest-buzz events, was curiously dead early on. You could almost see tumbleweeds rolling through as local faves Ohbijou warmed up with their winsome orchestral pop. And shockingly wacky Swede singer/songwriter Frida Hyvönen must've come away with a warped impression of the seemingly apathetic T.O. musical community, since attendance wasn't any better for her 8:15 slot. Still, Hyvönen made the most of her showcase, peppering her trilling cabaret ballads with charming anecdotes and silly faces.
Frequent festival flyers the RockFour from Tel Aviv unfortunately found themselves stuck at Clinton's in the 9 pm slot, billed with Thomas Lunch and Tims Myth , so it's hardly surprising that only 23 people bothered to stop by for their slickly psychy set. The highlight was the 'Four's trippy rendition of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett-penned classic Arnold Layne, which they proudly announced won them top honours in an Arnold Layne covers contest and a thumbs-up from David Gilmour.
Moe Berg appeared to be clapping enthusiastically, but it must've been his twin, because Berg was actually over at Lee's Palace , strapped with a guitar and singing high harmonies with country cutie Shannon Lee Briggs . Berg's promising production client returned to Toronto from Nashville, where she's angling for a deal as some label's Canuck answer to Carrie Underwood. The polished sound of Briggs's pure pop version of country and her girl-next-door charm should have her running Music City.
Keyboard-stroking upstart Jade McNelis , the latest signing to Montreal's Good Fences label, drew an enthusiastic reception for her intense, brooding tunes at the Rivoli . Though McNelis delivered a performance that positions her as next in line for Emily Haines's indie torch singer crown, the songs were a bit too sparse and would've benefited from the full-band treatment they have on disc.
Over at the Horseshoe , the gladhanding music biz executives were out in large numbers for the one-two punch of Toronto thrashy goth punks Die Mannequin and Vancouver boogie rock bad boys Pride Tiger , who clearly love them some Thin Lizzy. Die Mannequin's Brody Dalle-look-alike guitarist, Care Failure , is a decent screamer, but if she plans to continue her crowd-wowing stunts, it would be wise to do a test run during soundcheck.
Once she jumped up on the Horseshoe's backroom bar, Failure discovered there wasn't enough clearance to stand upright (oops), so, embarrassingly, she had to take her big solo crouched into a tiny ball, which inspired more finger-pointing and laughter than awe.
No antics from Pride Tiger, who hit a groove from note one and kept on truckin' hard and fast throughout their 70s-throwback attack while visions of beer ad cross-promotions danced in label honchos' heads.
Friday, March 9
Unfortunately, few people were present at Lee's Palace to find out who was the mysterious "special guest" listed in the CMW directory following Baby Eagle and Woolly Leaves . Turned out the not-so-secret act was Wayne Petti from Cuff the Duke, who quietly strummed his sad-sack tunes.
The huge crowd, excited about the Besnard Lakes , thoughtfully waited until Petti finished his moping to come rushing into the venue to stake out their stage-front spots during Rock Plaza Central 's shockingly upbeat set. Perhaps it was the thrill of playing to a full house or the extra kick of pre-show caffeine. Whatever the reason, the string-slinging RPC posse seemed switched on.
Not to be outdone by the bearded horde, the Besnards put on an electrifying display of modern prog pop, proving there are bands from Montreal that can live up to their blogospheric hype. Those who came for the Besnards hung around to check out what sort of pentagonally revisionist glam racket Pop Levi would kick up at the witching hour. The Prince Valiant hairdos and spell-casting poses from the boys were an intriguing departure from the rest of the program, but it appears the fancy packaging was in lieu of decent tunes.
Feist 's hush-hush private showcase, previewing tunes from her stunning new The Reminder disc at the Music Gallery , was an attempt to piggyback on the media/industry momentum of CMW, rather than an official festival event. But the combo of perfect acoustics, impeccable new tunes and a breathtaking vocal performance that made Let It Die seem like a giant snore made for a highlight of the weekend.
It was hard to imagine anything could beat the Feistfest, until we arrived at the Horseshoe for the manic, sweaty insanity of You Say Party! We Say Die! If you've seen the BC dance-punk darlings in the past, forget those wobbly appearances. Like Pretty Girls Make Graves with a better sense of humour and awesome choreography, YSP!WSD! exploded with dead-on anthems driven by Krista Loewen 's surprisingly complex synth melodies and the incredible energy of frontwoman Becky Ninkovic .
They didn't even need the added punch of guest shouters Vanessa Fischer (No Dynamics), Nirmala Basnayake and Jeff Scheven (both ex-Controller.controller), who joined the loose-limbed quintet for their penultimate tune, though the group-hug-athon was a bonus. One of Canada's bands to watch in 07, without a doubt.
Norway's adorable Harmonica brought some powerfully fun shouty punk-pop stylings to Sneaky Dee's . Lead singer and guitarrist Monica Johansen yelped, shouted and belted her way through keyed-up, distorted riffage, rocking undiscovered hits with her gang of five, powered by the solid drumming of Karl Magnus Bjorøy .
With their classy hoedown duds, vintage microphone and rotating lineup, bluegrass/folk pros the United Steel Workers of Montreal were a hit at the Silver Dollar . Leader/founder Gern F 's craggy voice and hunched-into-the-mic posture fleshed out their O Brother, Where Art Thou aesthetic, and Felicity Hamer showed off her vocal dexterity in a handful of tunes.
Saturday, March 10
Started off the night at Sneaky Dee's , where mellow strummer Jay Pea and his bro-rock band missed the mark, coming off as would-be openers for a Dave Matthews jamorama. Brit producer/songwriter Fink , whose hat suggested a debt to Badly Drawn Boy, had more to work with. His songs were built around an interesting percussive guitar attack that revealed his roots in beat-based electronic music, rather than straightforward strumming, but his solo show was still snoozy.
Hung around the Horseshoe Tavern , where the pride of Nova Scotia, soft rockers In-Flight Safety channelled Coldplay. Nobody seemed too put out by their benign songs, which would be perfect for listening to on the radio at the cottage while sipping a warm can of beer. Local rock stalwarts the Golden Dogs quickly jolted the audience back to life. Charismatic fronters Dave Azzolini and Jess Grassia wailed through the tour-honed jams off their new album, Big Eye, Little Eye, including a hell-raising cover of Paul McCartney's 1985, fuelled by Taylor Knox 's pummelling.
Any hope that the Silver Dollar show by the Danish contingent would make up for all the rest of the rubbish was dashed early on by a lethargic performance by Copenhagen's pouty Moi Caprice , who came off like a more forlorn version of Keane with a yen for scarves. The Kissaway Trail were much more energetic but could use some work on their choreography - their timing was way off on the unison bouncing bits.
When Powersolo 's guitar-spanking brother tandem of Kix Jeppesen and Atomic Child came out wearing matching black afro wigs for their Scando Culture on the Skids routine, it was time to head next door to the Comfort Zone for the third night of the Zoobombs ' NeXT hoedown.
Frontman Don Matsuo was still shaken by the destruction of his main axe the previous night, explaining, "The stage was much harder than I thought." But knowing that this was the gig that would be recorded for possible release, Matsuo and company put the loss behind them and carried on with the Zoobombs' business of speaker-sizzling and wall-shaking.
Memo to the CMW organizers: when you have a big-buzz band from elsewhere, like, say, Brighton, England's Pipettes , doesn't it make sense to book 'em in a venue with a capacity of more than 200? We get that the Riv came under heavy scrutiny from fire marshals, and Saturday's limited-access Pipettes showcase was a logistical nightmare cuz you had to adhere to strict regulations, but the idea of squeezing one of your most anticipated acts into such a tiny venue was ass-backwards to begin with, especially when you'd sold 100 advance tickets.
At least it worked in Jenn Grant 's favour. Though the Halifax songstress got stuck with a somewhat shitty time slot for any singer/songwriter - 1 am on the fest's final night - her Horseshoe showcase filled up a bit with disgruntled fans turned away from the Pipettes show down the street.
After her solid band killed time with a decent improv cover of the Postal Service's The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, Grant came onstage swinging, blasting through alt-countryish tunes that rose above typical rootsy fare due to her powerful voice and the fierce rock 'n' roll energy of the whole band's delivery. One misstep - earnest spoken word is dicey under the best circumstances, and though it's cool to support friends, inviting neighbour Tanya Davis up for a poetic interlude killed Grant's momentum. Luckily, she was able to pull it together to end the night on a high.