Elizabeth Shepherd Trio (8 pm) Since moving to Toronto from her Montreal home, promising young jazz singer/pianist Elizabeth Shepherd has been quietly developing an impressive rep on the local scene with her superior chops and outgoing nature. But lately Shepherd's been gaining wider notoriety, thanks in part to a superbly soulful update of Jean-Pierre Ferland's Ton Visage, a bonus track tacked onto the Ready Or Not 2 collection of archival CBC jazz recordings.
She's following that up in July with her hard-swinging Do Right! label debut, Start To Move, that Shepherd launches in England at the esteemed Jazz Café on a bill with Finland's fab Five Corners Quintet in August.
It all kicks off with a party-starting performance at NXNE's NOW Magazine showcase at the Reverb Friday (June 9) at 8 pm.
Melissa McClelland (9 pm) Melissa McClelland's like the girl next door packing a switchblade in her sock. The Suzuki-violin-trained singer/songwriter spent her formative years soaking up the faceless non-ambience of Burlington, Ontario, eventually exorcising her teenage demons in 04's Stranded In Suburbia disc, her first release on the Orange label. Though McClelland deftly exposed the shady side of cul-de-sacs and strip malls in that disc's sweetly hooky alt-pop, her recently released follow-up, Thumbelina's One Night Stand (Orange) is a massive leap. Thoughtfully produced by partner Luke Doucet (who joins her during her NOW showcase set), the new tunes rattle and shake with painstakingly detailed observations of Greyhound derelicts, daybreak heartache and assembly-line dreamers.
McClelland's developed her sound to match, effortlessly easing into rich torch-singer purrs and raunchy-ass roots drawls with the aid of a fab band (they also back up Doucet's Lee's Pal-ace set Friday at midnight) and a hidden pocket flask. If you only know her as part of the folk-pop Ladybird Side Show collective, now's the time to see a new side of McClelland at 9 pm at the Reverb.
Jason Falkner (10 pm) As nice as it must be for bands to move into the spotlight overnight, even as a fleeting flavour of the month, there's gotta be a greater sense of accomplishment in being someone like tireless Los Angeles rocker Jason Falkner. Since 1988, the man's been lending his talents to a variety of bands in-cluding French electro-pop outfit Air, Beck, Aimee Mann and some old guy named Paul McCartney. But he deserves the most credit for being a solo performer fiercely committed to his own music, so much so that after a few soured experiences early on, Falkner swore to himself he'd never join a band again.
Falkner, with his catchy pop rock numbers, ought to get a big dose of recognition and praise for his serious workhorse ethic over almost two decades.
Femme Generation (11 pm) Even the fab foursome in T.O. indie rock squad Femme Generation were shocked when their independently issued debut EP, Circle Gets The Square, caused a mega-commotion amongst post-punk freaks and geeky critics across Canada. It's crammed with jittery, angular synth rock and oddly touching fuzzed-out ballads. The quartet rose to the challenge by delivering a scorching, spastic live show and a surprisingly sophisticated sophomore disc -- this year's Brothers And Sisters, Alone We Explode (Permafrost) -- that lyrically and sonically references Kurt Weill, Hitler, communism, heroin, Chubby Checker, electro, new wave and jazz. Pretty impressive.
The Femme fellas -- Bernard Kadosh, Aaron Hutchings, John Rivera and Paul Filippelli are not girls -- attribute their eccentrically anthemic sound and addictive onstage energy to the kind of camaraderie best exemplified by soldiers in a post-apocalyptic bunker. They should provide an electroshock jolt of spazz-rock to the NOW party when they hit the Reverb stage at 11 pm Friday.
Amy Millan (midnight) She's best known as the alluringly aloof co-frontperson for hopeless romantic dream pop outfit Stars, or as one of the satellite singers who drops by during indie rock supergroup Broken Social Scene's stage shows, so few people realize Toronto-bred Amy Millan has a long history with hurtin' country music. Raised on her mom's Paul Simon LPs, Millan developed a split musical personality in university, balancing her allegiance to pure pop and the fuzzed-out blisscapes of Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement with the moonshine 'n' mandolin hootenannies she discovered through roommate Dan Whiteley of Toronto bluegrass stalwarts Crazy Strings.
Millan built up a backlog of whiskey-drenched country ballads and left 'em to age till -- with the assistance of rock god/production genius Ian Blurton -- she felt ready. The result? Her ace new Honey From The Tombs (Arts & Crafts) disc, which she officially unveils at Friday's NOW showcase at the Reverb. To get in the appropriate mood, order a straight bourbon from the bar and prepare to have your heart broken by her winsome high lonesome tunes.
Do Right! Soundsystem (1 am) Closing the NOW showcase with a serious boom-bap are world-renowned Movement DJ John Kong and his Do Right! Soundsystem, featuring T.O. underground hiphop stars Abs & Fase and the Circle Research crew with mixmaster Kong dropping dance-floor heat between sets starting at 1 am. Perhaps the most anticipated moment will be a rare public appearance by Toronto's best-kept secret scratch DJ and rhyme ripper, Anonymous Twist, who'll keep the party rockin' right with his club killers Royal Flush and Dollars In Fists.
Wait till you hear Twist's neck-snapping collabos with Planet Asia and Sean Price. This incognito hombre is on it!