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LONG WINTER with RAE SPOON, HIDDEN CAMERAS, WEAVES, B.A. JOHNSTON and many more at the Great Hall, Friday, January 10. Rating: NNNN
Now in its eighth incarnation (nine if you include last month's collab with the AGO), Long Winter fest - the music and art extravaganza courtesy of local artists, thinkers, organizers and creators Mick Brambilla, Alison Creba, Jonah Falco, Mike Haliechuk, Vish Khanna, Colin Medley and Josh Zucker, is beginning to feel like a mini Nuit Blanche - in the best possible way - except contained within an enclosed multi-venue venue. The nights are stacked: there is so much happening in so many different spaces, and a ton of people who want to see it.
In all, roughly 17 musical acts played five different spaces, creating a mini-festival vibe as groups of pwyc patrons floated from space to space. Which was sort of the point - bring a summer festival format to the winter, without having to freeze.
Amidst the gorgeous smell of Christmas tree (actually an "Xmas tree installation" by Chris Foster that turned the main room into Narnia), Rae Spoon played tunes from their latest release My Prairie Home. Solo, Spoon managed to sound like a full band, and demonstrated the same self-assured stage-presence and musicianship as they have in much-smaller spaces. Later, Toronto's Hidden Cameras brought nine musicians onstage to preview their album, Age, which drops later this month. The collective liveliness of such an orchestra contrasted with lead singer Joel Gibb's sombre, baritone vocals always makes for an engaging live show, and Friday's occasion was no different.
Meanwhile, down in the restaurant, a topless B.A. Johnston made sure than everyone who didn't have a great view could get up close and personal as he cut through the crowd and jumped on the bar. ("I should rip off Rich Aucoin more often," he said after.) Singing about GST (Gimme Some Treats!) and making tasteless jokes (one about his mother and a coathanger), Johnston's down-on-his-luck stage persona was in full, depressingly hilarious effect.
The most aesthetically pleasing room was the Conversation Room, whose white walls changed colour with reflective light. Unfortunately, it also has the worst sight lines, but the masses didn't seem to mind as they packed in throughout the night, especially for Weaves' 12:30 set.
Other cool things: A Long Winter split 7-inch for the first 350 people in the doors, dance by female collective WIVES, and an hour-long late-night talk show with Vish Khanna, on which (full disclosure) this writer was a participant.