The Scene

Canadian Music Week shows that rocked Toronto last week


Rating: NNNNN


Thu, Mar 6

CREATURE, CHOCOLAT, BESNARD LAKES, El Mocambo

Thursday was unofficially Quebec night at Canadian Music Week. Along with Plants and Animals drawing attention to the Horseshoe, CBC Radio 3 and Sirius Satellite Radio were doing an all-Quebec night at the El Mocambo.

Since bands from La Belle Province are still all the rage and there’s a bit of a buzz on Creature, it seemed like a good idea to get to the El Mo early for their scheduled 9 pm showcase. But by 8:55 the Creature cut-ups were nowhere in sight, and instead the slobbish Chocolat (rating: N) crew were plonking through a sound check to a nearly empty club.

A couple of lost-looking Canadian Music Week delegates wandered around looking for a CMW rep to find out if the Creature show was happening upstairs. Ten minutes later, Craig Norris of CBC Radio 3 was on the stage announcing a “Quebec invasion of Spadina Street” and introducing Chocolat – not Creature – to the shock and horror of most of the 15 people present.

“Where the fuck is Creature?” an understandably frustrated badge-wearer shouted.

“Umm… there was a typo in the listings, ” piped up someone standing near at the merch table. “They’re actually playing at 11 pm.”

So not only did many miss the hot act on the bill, but they were left to listen to the lethargic puttering of the Chocolat burnouts attempting a slo-mo recreation of a drunken Strokes performance.

We returned to the El Mocambo to see Creature (rating: NNN), and by 10:45 pm the club was finally starting to fill up. Whether you love or hate Creature depends on how you feel about the throwback disco-dented dance rock that had a popular resurgence a few years back. If you can’t get enough of the 1982 sound, the high-energy band offers more of the same, along with a super-tight and zesty stage show complete with karate kicks and non-stop cowbell clanking.

Their hyperactive set was hard for Besnard Lakes (rating: NN) to follow. Instead of raising their energy level, the Lakes simply cranked up the volume to outdoor stadium level and wallowed in a slow stoner grind that had people stiffling yawns. Painful.

MISTEUR VALAIRE, CAMOUFLAGE NIGHTS, Sneaky Dee’s

Over to Sneaky Dee’s to catch what was left of the set by Sherbrooke post-junglist jam band Misteur Valaire (rating: NNN). This being CMW, the backpacking beardos in sideways ball caps had decided to bounce around in matching argyle sweater vests worn over their hoodies while they thrashed out their sloppily raging Congo Natty-inspired workouts.

Up next were Camouflage Nights (rating: N), but because Misteur Valaire had so much gear to tear down, they didn’t even have their drum kit set up until 25 minutes after their scheduled 10 pm start time. Neither the band nor the Sneaky Dee’s sound man appeared to be in a rush, and no one from CMW was acting as stage manager to ensure a timely start.

SMALL SINS, Drake Hotel Underground, Rating: NNN

Because they’re fond of synthesizers, Toronto’s Small Sins are often described as electro-pop, but that’s more than a bit misleading. At their core they’re really a pure pop band.

Their live show is very polished, and they’re obviously well rehearsed. The backup vocals are well executed and the songs packed with hooks.

They sound very familiar, their biggest shortcoming. Too often we caught ourselves thinking they were covering a song by the Cars before realizing it was an original.

JULIE DOIRON, Rivoli, Rating: NNN

With heavy bangs hanging over her closed eyes, Julie Doiron stomped and swayed through a reverb-filled set of some of her more heartbreaking songs from Woke Myself Up.

Backed by her New Brunswick bandmate and drummer Fred Squire and, as she admitted, obviously intoxicated, she emphasized her recent, almost wistful, return to her grunge roots.

PLANTS AND ANIMALS, Horseshoe, Rating: NNN

Montreal three-piece Plants and Animals commanded the attention of the crowded Horseshoe as they broke into their spastic, folk-infused prog rock.

It was impossible not to get swept up by the hot guitar solos and slides layered between Matthew Woodley’s shotgun drumming and the mounting vocal harmonies.

Fri, Mar 7

TROPICS, SLIM TWIG, LAURA BARRETT, Drake Underground

Judging by the snaking lineup and heavy media presence, the Paper Bar Records showcase at the Drake Underground was the evening’s CMW place to be.

Having just missed a set by the foxy ladies in Huckleberry Friends, we grabbed positioning to catch Tropics (rating: NNN), the side joint for Slim Twig and his skins-bashing partner, Simone TB. The duo churned out gritty garage stomps, with Twig doing his disjointed vocal yelps while thrashing fuzzed-out chords.

Up next was cutesy kalimba-phile Laura Barrett (rating: NN), who looked intimidated by the loud chatter in the max-capacity bar. Nevertheless, she took on the talkers with her kalimba-thumbing tunes. Some stood transfixed by her soft voice and quirky lyrics, but the environment was totally wrong for what she’s about.

Twig took the stage after her with his Slim Twig (rating: NNN) band, then proceeded to bust open a set of left-field rockabilly. You could feel relief in the crowd. No disrespect to Barrett, but the crowd wanted to rock out, and Twig facilitated that.

FOXFIRE, Dakota Tavern, Rating: NNNN

Over at the Dakota Tavern, meanwhile, we spent most of Tom Fun Orchestra’s set glowering at the bouncer keeping us outside the rammed-full bar.

When we finally made it in, Foxfire (formerly Foxfire Forest) were launching into a high-energy set of B-52’s-brand rock. The tiny stage barely contained the seven-piece as lead singers Neil Rankin and Hannah Krapivinsky put on a thrilling spectacle for the blissed-out and boozy audience.

SKRATCH BASTID, Drake Rating: NNNN

There’s DJing and then there’s party-rocking Skratch Bastid does the latter. The Montreal-based turntablist, who kept a post-2 am crowd jacked with hiphop standards mixed seamlessly into fresh tracks, had the floor bopping at the Drake till late – real late.

HOT SPRINGS, Sneaky Dee’s Rating: NN

Montreal’s Hot Springs were definitely enjoying themselves as they crashed around the Sneaky Dee’s stage. Vocalist/guitarist Giselle Webber’s words may have been incomprehensible at times, but she captivated the crowd with her whimsical antics, flailing her arms around to emphasize her controlled soprano vocals.

M.O.P., Opera House, Rating: NNN

The slowly swelling audience soaked in cuts from DJ Mel Boogie and DJ O-nonymous before the mohawked Mohawks swarmed the Opera House stage.

F.B.I., aka Fuckin’ Badass Indians, started strong with their faithful cover of N.W.A.’ s Straight Outta Compton and were entertaining rocking the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

Soon, however, they descended into clichés and awkwardness. Reinforcing stereotypes with a 3-foot bottle of vodka? Not a good look.

Mayhem Morearty came screaming out of the gate, literally his gruff voice and rugged beats overpowered the system for a minute. Technical difficulties couldn’t keep him and his crew from swarming the stage, rocking Out Here and others of his hits.

The stage was set for M.O.P. to finish the kill, and they set the show on fire, rocking Cold As Ice and 4 Alarm Blaze. Their hype man almost stole the show with his witty charisma. Danz and Fame seemed a bit too preoccupied with spliffs and cigarettes. Peaking with the Jay-Z remix U Don’t Know and riot starter Ante Up, the concert was rowdy but finished much too soon.

HILLTOP HOODS, Annex Wreckroom, Rating: NNNN

Suffa MC (left), Pressure MC and DJ Debris of Aussie rap posse the Hilltop Hoods brushed back the Annex Wreckroom crowd with their outback attack Friday.

Photo By Nic Pouliot

Playing to an audience split between homegrown fans sporting flags and cricket jerseys and curious locals, the Aussie hiphop trio treated them to an incredibly entertaining display of party anthems about drinking and, well, having a good time.

They’re used to playing to larger crowds at home, but MCs Suffa and Pressure rocked the show with aplomb and style.

They made no pretensions of revolutionizing the genre, instead relying on tried-and-true uptempo jams and plenty of crowd participation.

Just awesome.

Sat, Mar 8

THE INDIES, Royal York BC Ballroom

Carl Newman and Kathryn Calder of the New Pornographers, unlike Feist, showed up at the Indies to accept their favourite-group award and then rocked for an hour.

Photo By Paul Till

It was shocking how many people braved the snowstorm to get to the Royal York Hotel for the Indie Awards.

A dapper-looking Ron Hawkins (left) and Lawrence Nichols reunited Saturday for the Lowest of the Low’s induction into the Indies Hall of Fame.

Photo By Paul Till

Then again, since at least half the people in the BC Ballroom were industry types invested in the night in some way or another, maybe it’s not so surprising. Underlining the night’s role as a motivational meet for the esoteric side of the industry, the blasé host took every opportunity to pat the crowd on the back for “discovering” indie music.

Lucas Silveira (left), Nina Martinez and Jen Benton of the Cliks dedicated their Indies performance of Oh Yeah to the late Jeff Healey at the Royal York Saturday.

Photo By Paul Till

This tension between corporate cheerleading and artistic integrity was reflected in the bands, with forgettable performances by Young Galaxy and Tokyo Police Club (both ratings: NN) balanced by the sincerity of the Cliks and the Besnard Lakes (both ratings: NNN).

Despite the showy ceremony and its exhausting mediocrity, headliners the New Pornographers (rating: NNN) delivered their pretty pop with humble conviction.

KRS-ONE, Opera House, Rating: NNNN

Regardless of the mounting snow, the Opera House was swelling with ecstatic anticipation, and the positivity was palpable. DJ Big Jacks dropped consecutive gems, building the momentum steadily.

Then Alex Dimez opened the show strong, followed by 9th Uno, who recently rocked the GZA concert. Then, out of nowhere, KRS-One’s voice came booming through the speakers. Delivering a showcase of classics and spirited freestyles, KRS-One was loving his time in Toronto so much, he sometimes fudged the words of his many hits.

Thank god he did the second verse of guttural Aw Yeah, enough of My Philosophy and nearly half of both Love’s Gonna Getcha and Step Into A World.

But the night was officially classic when KRS called RZA to the stage and Prince Rakeem jumped on the C.R.E.A.M. beat and proceeded to spit Protect Ya Neck and more. Stunning.

Also excellent was KRS dissing the Canadian media for not supporting local MCs, standing in the middle of the crowd with no microphone, just shouting the sermon to the true believers.

Yet as great as the KRS-One main event truly was, next time the show should be better organized, and Eternia ought to perform, too.

DENGUE FEVER, Foxfire, Sneaky Dee’s

Ethan Holtzman  (left) and Ch’hom Nimol helped make Dengue Fever’s floor-shaking Cambodian psych blast at Sneaky Dee’s Saturday night a clear CMW highlight.

Photo By Joshua Errett

On the upside, the fact that this Sneaky Dee’s gig wasn’t a typical CMW showcase meant that Dengue Fever (rating: NNNNN) could play longer than the standard 20 minutes.

On the downside, the same went for the openers, Toronto’s own Foxfire (formerly Foxfire Forest, aka the Sally Ann Scissor Sisters, rating: NN). Their sloppy dance rock has a way of making 40 minutes seem like five hours.

Not that their 80s-throwback song ideas are all terrible. It’s the execution that sucks. If Foxfire had a tighter rhythm section, a creative stylist or even the slightest bit of chemistry between singers Neil Rankin and Hannah Krapivinsky, they might actually get somewhere.

Dengue Fever had no such trouble locking into a groove and holding audience attention, thanks to exceptionally charismatic frontwoman Ch’hom Nimol and the rock-solid rhythm section of towering bassist Senon Williams and funky drummer Paul Smith. They complemented the twangy spy guitar runs of Zac Holtzman and the snaky saxophone swirl of David Ralicke for a floor-shaking blast.

You know a band is connecting at Sneaky Dee’s when you can feel yourself rising and falling with the movement of the crowd. Yes, as unlikely as it seems, there was spontaneous dancing at a CMW show, with people in big boots, scarves, wool sweaters, puffy jackets and furry headgear inventing their own steps like some crazy Cambodian après-ski soiree.

THE BREEDERS, Phoenix, Rating: NNNN

How did the Breeders get so freakin’ tight for this, only their second show since reuniting after six years apart?

The band cruised through tunes from their new disc, Mountain Battles – a record more quirky than reminiscent of the Deal sisters’ riot grrrl days – and peppered the set with old faves.

These Deals are very real. No preening, no attempt to tart up the act, no denying their loyal fans hits like Cannonball, which is still a great weapon. Just a terrific show. Welcome back.

ANGEL PIER, Hideout, Rating: NNN

As part of the Irish showcase, melodic and driving four-piece Angel Pier did their best to follow in the footsteps of Ash and Manic Street Preachers with a set that was occasionally both uplifting and slightly underwhelming.

A bad mix ended up making the band sound as if they couldn’t decide between loud and commanding and introspectively quiet. Lead guitarist Luke Paluch looked and played as if he belonged on a stadium stage, while singer Darragh Nolan would’ve been more suited to a solo acoustic coffeehouse gig.

That aside, the songs were well put together and catchy enough. Sacrifice has radio hit written all over it, and the band definitely has the potential to become something big.

BLACK LUNGS, Horseshoe, Rating: NNN

As the new side project of one of the other dudes in Alexisonfire, Black Lungs came off as a punk rock version of Tom Waits-meets-Billy Bragg.

Keyboardist Sammi Bogdanski fleshed out the sparse, brooding, aggressive guitar strumming. High points were the more intense, blues-based rockers that worked well with Wade MacNeil’s gravelly voice, while the sentimental punk youth anthems about goofing around came off as slightly less inspired.

At best, the heavy-handed and menacing tone was well played and convincing, and the whole thing was definitely a welcome change of pace from his other shitty band.

BLACK HAT BRIGADE, Silver Dollar, Rating: NNN

Somewhere between Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wolf Brigade is the synth-driven, eclectic indie rock of quintet Black Hat Brigade, who delivered their faux marching rhythms, disco stomps and swirly instrumental numbers with skill.

Despite their slightly offputting too-cool-for-everything posturing, they had energy and stage presence and the chops to pull off relatively complex songs that were high on percussion, with lots of additional drumming by members who doubled on floor tom duty while the frantic lead guitar added to the music’s urgency.

If they tightened up just a bit, they’d be worth hearing again.

Sun, Mar 9

RZA AS BOBBY DIGITAL, Phoenix, Rating: NNNN

Screwface Capital resident Marvel gained majority approval, rocking his half-hour of jazzy boom-bap to open the show. Adding the sharp-witted Arcee increased the affair notably.

But after crashing the KRS-One show and speaking at the CMW conference during a whirlwind weekend in Toronto, how high would RZA’s energy level be and how would the hot ticket of the weekend fare solo?

Better than you could have imagined. He looked, sounded and played the part of Bobby Digital, hardcore hiphop creator. And DJ Kevvy Kev slayed heads with the perfect sequencing of songs.

RZA delivered We Pop properly before he ripped open his tan Wu-Wear outfit to reveal a Batman-like Wu logo underneath, for maximum reaction.

Deadly Medley, from Wu-Tang Forever, made for another crowd-pleasing moment before RZA rocked the hell out of skull-shattering Wu-Tang classic 9th Chamber. Clan In Da Front and Reunited hit hard as well. And just when you thought it was safe, he came back withWu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuttin’ To Fuck Wit’ as the encore.

Lethal.

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