Operators at The Silver Dollar
It was only the third night of CMW but we're already calling it - Dan Boeckner's new band Operators gave one of the best performances of the week. As promised, the 45-minute set was loud, danceable and full of synth-pop earworms courtesy of Boeckner's signature piercing growl and Devojka's masterful reign over a table full of synths, drum machines and other electro doodads. For the finale, the packed room went absolutely crazy when Boeckner's west coast buds Japandroids joined in for a raucous, nostalgia-ridden cover of Wolf Parade's This Heart's On Fire. All of you who missed the show last night are in luck - they're playing two more nights (Friday and Saturday) at the Silver Dollar.
Astral Swans at The Cameron House
He was the man of the hour but he was totally shit-fucking nervous - and who could blame him, sandwiched between Sandro Perri and Veda Hille? Looking at a crowd that included Feist? Astral Swans (aka Calgary songwriter Matthew Swann) was warmly introduced by Dan Mangan as the "flagship artist" on his new label, Madic Records. The ensuing muted bar chords and songs of malaise and hallucinogenic ramblings struggled to hold the crowd's attention, but Swann's raw, minimalist style allowed subtleties to shine: an eerie whistle solo, for instance, or when he got deep into a guitar jam.
The 6th Letter at Wrongbar
Performing alongside his producer, Raz Fresco, Toronto emcee the 6th Letter treated Wrongbar to selects off his mixtape NorthernPlayalisticGetHighMuzik. The rapper has an arsenal of chilled-out smoking tunes - both throwback boom-bap styles and next-generation Snoop Dogg, West Coast-channelling ones - which he delivered with cool confidence. But laid-back isn't necessarily best late on a Thursday. The more uptempo tracks, like Still Twistin', were by far the most engaging.
Tasha the Amazon at Wrongbar
Taking cues from Travis Scott, who scaled everything at the Opera House on Wednesday, Tasha the Amazon climbed multiple teetering objects during her 1 am set. Starting her show from atop the railing around the VIP area, she leaped down to the stage, and later performed atop a chair, and also on a table. Succeeding at manipulating the crowd from stirring to TURNT UP, she had a healthy buzz on as she performed songs from her mixtape FiDiYootDem, pouring a drink on the crowd, smoking weed and, yeah, missing a lyric or two along the way. By set's end, there was grinding, girls making out, and a lot of smoke in the air. Success.
DIANA at the Drake Hotel
Rather than showcase their usual synth pop sound, DIANA chose to rework their catalogue into ambient improvisations for the first of their two night stand at the Drake Hotel, and then flip the songs again into house/techno arrangements for the second night. The results of the first night's experiment were playfully weird and it was refreshing to see a band take chances for a festival appearance, but the set wasn't a very accurate representation of what we actually love about the band.
Jennifer Castle at the Drake Hotel
Kneeling down out of sight of most of the audience, Jennifer Castle relied almost exclusively on her haunting country-inflected vocals to charm the crowd, her minimalist finger-picked guitar patterns echoing away faintly in the background. It's hard to say exactly what gives her eerie folk ballads such a hypnotic quality, but it's working for us.
OSIYM at Wrongbar
Rap duo OSIYM's propensity for alcohol is an integral part of their party-rappers-who-aren't-afraid-to-get-solemn charm. And charm they did - offering free shots to the most lively audience members, bringing fans on stage for interactive drinking contests - buoying their songs documenting their struggle to the middle with an ounce of irresistible joviality.