Indie Week is a new festival much like Toronto’s two best known fests Canadian Music Week and North By Northeast, with the same format of having a variety of bands playing in different venues each night. However, Indie Week 2009 had an extra element to it in that the performances of all the bands at each venue were being judged, with with the winners from each venue each night facing off on in a battle of the bands style finale on Saturday night. The winning band would get travel to Ireland to participate in the sister Indie Week competition which is held over there.
Gig/Concert: Indie Week Music Festival, Toronto
Venue: Various venues in Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: October 7-10, 2009
Headliners: Sixteen Layers, Cutaways
In one word: Spirited
Indie Week started for me at The Reverb on Friday night, where The North got her going with some country-tinged rock. There wasn’t much of a crowd early in the evening inside the Reverb, which was noted by the singer Bernadette Rossi who pointed out that it was mainly just other musicians in the audience. Nonetheless, the music was enjoyed and toes were tapping. Rossi has an archetypal female country tone, backed by a solid rhythm section and guitar that hovers suitably between some biting blues and tangy country.
Immediately after The North came The Eatons, who were playing on an additional make shift stage in the corner to the right of the main stage. Their energy was high, but alas, misguided? At least none of that energy hit home to me. They played set of indie pop rock – in a similar vein to say The Kooks, just to give you a ballpark reference point – which passed by with anonymity.
I’m happy I’d stuck around in the Reverb. I’ve grown rather fond of this venue and its nice wide open dance floor, plus the ease of walk-up vantage of the low stage which is very welcoming for photography. [Although despite these favourable photography conditions, a few people still insisted on using flash which, I found annoying – there weren’t any photo guidelines for this festival, but really it goes against the code of the photo pit to use it. Grumble…]
Making full use of the wide Reverb stage were Constant Season from Calgary. They played a set of richly emotive rock music, and they try their best at painting pictures with sound, with songs that develop with layers of aural colour. Think lush and rich progressions, harmonies, synths and strings and driven by progressing drumming, which hasten with the pulse of the music. Constant Season’s set was rather hit-or-miss, but at their best, as with the song The Star And The Lover they show themselves to be talented purveyors of melodic rock. Their sound is not something I’d find myself wanting to listen to The energy and emotion from the band couldn’t really be faulted, with the singer being particularly into his craft. It was a good showing though I’ll admit I glanced over at the three Indie Week judges who seemed rather underwhelmed.
I stuck around at Reverb a little longer to catch Zoo Lion, another band from Calgary – or make that another good band from Calgary. I’m seriously finding it hard to keep track of the number of great bands I’ve seen this year from out west. These are exciting times for Canadian music.
Over the road at the Bovine I saw the very closing moments of Tenth Planet’s set, which was pretty rad for the little bit that I caught. A little further down Queen West I saw the naff named Brazen Angelz – one of a clutch of Irish – or Irish/British as in this case – bands playing at the Hideout on Friday night. Their was a cracking atmosphere inside the Hideout, the headquarters for Indie Week, which the Brazen Angelz certainly contributed to, but really they are nothing more than a pub band.
Then we have splashdown. This part of my evening that was akin to jumping into an ice cold ocean on a hot summers day. The atmosphere at Free Times Cafe, a quaint little cafe-cum-bar on College St, was the absolute opposite to the wild party vibe going down at Bovine and Hideout. I think my ears were grateful for the 20 minutes or so of near sensory deprivation though, as people sat around supping on tea and light beers as Katie Costello sung softly, intertwining her songs with quirky little stories. [Incidentally, Katie is no relation to Elvis Costello, who Music Vice just happened to be covering the night before over the other side of the globe in Australia.] I stayed for the remainder of Costello’s set before heading back to where the action was at down on Queen St.
I nipped back to the Bovine to see a kick-ass set from Teenage X, a lady-fronted punk rock outfit from Toronto who are fresh on the scene this year. I’m sure it won’t be long until more gig goers in Toronto find out about them – they were tight, solid, and are packing some good beats. I like the singer Sarah’s vocal, which is a little more delicate than you might expect but with just enough snarl and attitude to make it work. Also, having the letter X in your band name is always a fail-safe way to score a few extra badass points. Expect to hear more about Teenage X.
Without doubt, the party at Indie Week ’09 was over at the Hideout on Friday night, where Sixteen Layers took to the stage at around 1 a.m. The crowd had been warmed up suitably by all the other Irish bands that had played earlier, and seemingly inspired most people to hit the bar several times over, especially one particular drunken clown who was staggering around in circles looking for where he put his drink.
Sixteen Layers at Hideout was brilliant, really one to remember. This gig had pretty much everything you could want from a rock show – drunk people, girls dancing and a fully committed performance from the band. Oh and free Jager ! – thanks to Tom from the Hideout, who passed around a big bottle of the liquid candy among the band and audience. Sixteen Layers kicked ass and had everyone smiling, and for the first time in a long time I saw a band play an encore – and the encore was demanded, not pre-planned like what happens so often at shows. Encores should not be a token end of show tradition – this encore was fully merited and I never wanted this show to end. Awesome night.
Then on Saturday night Indie Week 2009 wrapped up with the battle of the bands competition, with each band given a half-hour slot to impress the crowd and judges at the Reverb, while some urban and acoustic acts played in the next room at Holy Joe’s. Of the bands that played Saturday evening, the calibre was pretty high throughout but there were a few really good stand-outs. In Holy Joe’s I saw Katie Costello again, and I found her a lot more interesting the second time around. People stood and sat around the edges of the room as Costello gave a performance that was intimate, and also again, quirky. For an example of Costello’s odd yet totally endearing banter between songs, at one point she rambled on “its funny how different might mic’s make you drool more…”. For sure, Katie Costello is a bit of an eccentric, but this eccentricity is responsible for the imagination and creativity that is conspicuous in her music – see Kaleidoscope Machine, a jaunty number which is irresistibly charming. Katie Costello almost even seems to wear Chuck Taylor’s with originality… well, almost… but she is quite the unusual character. A super-fantastical talent.
My pick of Indie Week was Tim Chaisson and Morning Fold, who put on a performance inside Holy Joe’s that was on another level. Chaisson, together with Brien McCarthy, Tian Wigmore and Nat Lamoureux are an East Coast group from Prince Edward Island. The band infuse folk and rock together with a bright and vibrant sound, and a strong warm vocal. These lads played a set that got progressively intense and culminated with the band letting loose with an extended version of Broken Hearted Beat. The band were just on fire.
Meanwhile inside The Reverb it was pretty much non-stop action all evening, with quick changovers. Highlights included The Fantasy Defender, a Toronto band who showcased their sound with a sprightly set that had elements of pop, rock and disco. If the judges were voting on the visual aspects of the band then I’m sure The Fantasy Defender scored high in that regard, with the pretty lead singer Dawn Mandarino demanding everyones attention (as any band leader should) with her yellow and black check dress and a feisty stage pre cense to boot. And speaking of stage presence, Montreal’s The In & Outs were rather nuts – the guitarist David Groover added a pantomime element as he shot down bass player Alexandre Pepin using the power of rock from his guitar, and then later on the drummer Francois-Michel Beauchamp lept away from his kit to swap instruments with the now re-animated Pepin. Entertaining stuff.
The action in The Reverb it had come down to a coin-toss between Toronto’s Darlings Of Chelsea and Calgary’s Static In The Stars for the pick of the bands to face-off against Chaisson to become Indie Week winners. Both bands played solid sets of testosterone charged rock, but Static In The Stars edged it for me – (who incidentally have a lead singer who looks like a long lost brother of Jack Black, check the photo) – but the festival producer Darryl Hurs wasn’t kidding when he said that it’d had been an incredibly tough decision for the judges to make.
In the end Darlings Of Chelsea faced off against Tim Chaisson And The Morning Fold, with each band playing two songs. The judges sided with hometown band Darlings Of Chelsea to crown them as Indie Week champions – be in no doubt that they are an exciting band. They play bold, brash and with venom, and seemed to raise their game in the two song battle with Chaisson.
I stuck around in the Reverb until it was kick-out time, and the patience of those who stayed till the end was rewarded by a great wee set from Cutaways who were the winners of Indie Week Ireland. A good humoured set from this boy-boy-girl indie rock trio – the pint-sized little pixie Grace McMacken was particularly fun with her new lunge dance move and funny little leaps of joy while playing keys, while the “sensitive indie boy” Paul McIver on guitar/vox contributed with his share of banter and his own version of the lunge.
The honour to close-out Indie Week was quite justifiably given to Sixteen Layers. The band and pretty much everyone in attendance were tired by this point, especially after the previous nights shenanigans, but the band still put on a good show and proved that it wasn’t just the alcohol that had made them seem like a great live band.
I raise a glass to Sixteen Layers and The Hideout for one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in Toronto, and cheers to all the fine people who organised Indie Week – a fantastic festival which deserves to be recognised as an important date in the music calendar in Canada. See you again in 2010!
© Brian Banks