Thunderheist’s Isis braves the cold at Nathan Phillips Square Saturday.
Thu, Jan 29
SEBASTIEN GRAINGER & THE MOUNTAINS at Sonic Boom Rating: NNNN
Ever since Sonic Boom expanded to include a basement space for crate diggers, it's become a go-to destination for in-store jams. Usually, record store shows are limited to stools and acoustic guitars, but Boom has a decent sound system down there, and bands are encouraged to play at their normal volume.
That was good news for Sebastien Grainger, whose left forearm tattoo reading 1979 is the only reminder of his former incarnation, his identity with the Mountains growing more distinct with each performance. Playing exclusively from their rookie self-titled debut, dropped last fall, Grainger looked pleasantly shocked at the impressive turnout as he energetically blasted standouts like American Names, I Hate My Friends and the 70s-rock boogie of Renegade Silence.
The closing feedback session combined with Grainger's operatic vocal exercises might have been ill-advised, considering the setting, but who can really complain in light of Boom's free admission policy?
Sat, Jan 31
THUNDERHEIST and SHAD at Nathan Phillips Square Rating: NNNN
Might as well make the most of the middle of winter in Toronto, which is likely what the folks behind WinterCity were thinking when they came up with their yearly fest of music, film, skating and performance. Despite the frosty weather, a substantial number of folks made it out to Saturday's festivities. (In the future, organizers ought to expand the popular warming tents, which were at capacity most of the time.)
You had to feel bad for conscious rapper Shad when his DJ encountered technical difficulties not far into the set, likely a result of the blowing snow. He managed to keep the audience's attention with some a cappella freestyling, but the delay wore on. When Shad brought up a live drummer at the end of the set, we wondered why he hadn't done that earlier.
Local party rap duo Thunderheist couldn't start their set on time, since the buildup of ice had to be cleared for the safety of their backup dancers. When they did eventually crank up their first tune, they were hit with another setback in the form of badly distorted bass, though the sound person remained blissfully unconcerned about it until halfway through the set.
The combination of bad weather and sound troubles might have spelled disaster for a lesser act, but Thunderheist pulled off a strong set and won over the crowd despite the odds stacked against them. When you haven't even put out a full-length album and the crowd is singing along, you're definitely onto something.
OPOPO and the MILES at the Drake Hotel Rating: NNNN
At first, this early show seemed like a write-off. Only a handful of people were there when fresh-faced local trio the Miles took the stage. "Look, I don't even need a mic to talk to you," joked guitarist Alex Laurence - and he didn't. Nevertheless, the Miles put on a fantastic set of theatrical, propulsive post-punk. With some fine-tuning, these kids - who I've seen kill packed rooms - could be Toronto's Franz Ferdinand.
But starting a show at 8 pm is a problem. People aren't used to turning up that early to see indie bands; this isn't SXSW. Thankfully, as OPOPO prepared to storm the stage, the room filled up considerably. With the recent addition of Foxfire's Sean Dunal on live drums, OPOPO played a wicked set of mostly new material emphasizing the "rock" part of their club-rock sound, while guitarist Bryan Sutherland cut up his vocals on the fly to keep things feeling electro. Stomping hits like Clockstop and Blast Blast off their EP had the floor moving. After a quick hand-off to late-night talent Famous Players, the dance party was in full swing.
TOM FUN ORCHESTRA, BRUCE PENINSULA, the DARCYS at the Horseshoe Rating: NNN
Initially, having Halifax's Tom Fun Orchestra headline over local faves Bruce Peninsula, who were debuting songs from their new disc, A Mountain Is A Mouth (Bruce Trail), seemed odd, particularly since a large portion of the audience at London's Call the Office the night before left with the Bruce brood. No less puzzling was the choice of openers, alt-rockers the Darcys, who have little connection to either of the other acts apart from facial hair.
That's not to suggest that the Darcys' opening set of Pavement-inspired 90s nostalgia was without merit, but the fact that their best tune was a cover of Final Fantasy's The CN Tower Belongs To The Dead indicates that they'd be wise to spend as much time on their compositions as they do on coordinating their vested stagewear. Almost everyone heaved a great sigh of relief when Bruce Peninsula appeared and started hollering their secular hymns. Because this was the smaller, 11-member version of the ensemble, there was much more shouting than advisable to make up for the missing voices. Still, the shoulder-to-shoulder throng was completely enthralled.
It certainly was a hard act to follow for the Tom Fun posse, but the crowd-pleasing crew were in their element surrounded by a liquored-up gathering on a Saturday night. With the screech of a fully amped squeezebox and fiddle, they kicked up the energy level a few notches and blasted out their lusty brand of East Coast swing. The people who left after Bruce Peninsula were replaced by many more who eagerly joined the jostling moshers up front.