Canadian Music Week is a three day music festival with over 500 bands playing in venues across Toronto. It’s a whole lot like NXNE, which runs in June every year.
Gig/Concert: Canadian Music Week
Venue: Various venues in Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: March 12-14, 2009
Headliners: Bloc Party
In one word: Oldschool
Thursday, March 12
My first experience at CMW 2009 started on Thursday, March 12th, as I made a brief visit to the Royal York in downtown Toronto to pick up my media pass. I timed this to coincide with Gene Simmons keynote speech and media Q&A. An opportunity to see Simmons ‘in the flesh’ so to speak – or at least that plastic surgery, as seen in Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels – was too much to resist.
Simmons appearance at CMW became a springboard for a promo event for his label Simmons Records, which is operated under the wing of Universal Music Canada. Nobody should be surprised that Simmons used the CMW spotlight for some self-promotion. Naturally, Simmons has some personally-vested interests in his own label, and everybody knows that he is a master of self-promotion and merchandising. People have moaned that he doesn’t ‘need’ any extra money, but of course he still has the right to earn. The biggest reaction to all of this, aside from the money topic, is the resounding cry – what does Simmons know about the Canada music biz? Probably not a lot, but if it turns out a few bands get helped out by getting on his label, then heck, that can’t be a bad thing, can it? After all, we are in the middle of a bloody recession…
Well, according to the opinion of ‘some guy’ called Bob Lefseftz, Mr Simmons has no business at all in Canada. Lefsetz and Simmons sat down together in front of the media for half an hour of what resembled a playground shouting match – with Bob questiong Gene’s motivations and calling him asshole, and Gene responding with jokes about doing Bob’s mother, and generally poking fun at Bob by qupping that he’d never heard of him before. (Amusing clips of Simmons vs Lefsetz can be found online; check out YouTube, or watch the entire showdown here, courtesy of CityNews.)
Friday, March 13
Snore! Away from the industry schmoozing and verbal bruising, Canadian Music Week kicked off properly for me on Friday night. With so many bands playing from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., in venues across Toronto, it was a skull-scratcher to figure out where and when to go. I decided to spend Friday night in and around the venues on Queen Street West, as that area had the highest proportion of bands and venues per square kilometre.
My first stop was at the Hideout, after I was drawn inside by some sweet pounding rock music from local band Cathartic. I only caught the very last moments of their set, which came to an end sometime after 9.30. I then headed further west on Queen Street in search of more music, but for a moment all the venues were quiet, as the bands who had played the 9 o’clock time slot had finished their sets, and changeovers were happening. I chose to go inside Velvet Underground, where a crowd was gathering for a Toronto band called Anvil.
“There was a comedy element to it all, but that’s part of the Anvil package – a classic 80’s metal sound, with some questionable lyrics but an undeniable charm.“
I’d never heard of Anvil before, but here inside VU were a posse of fans adorned in Anvil t-shirts and denim jackets with Anvil patches. At 10.20 p.m. Anvil came on, with their lead singer & guitarist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow making his entrance by delving into the crowd. Lips, with his crazy eyes and crazy hair, set off a charging set of 80’s hair metal. There was a comedy element to it all, but that’s part of the package – a classic 80’s metal sound, with some questionable lyrics but an undeniable charm. Anvil are a lot of fun, and I’d find out more about them the following day.
Over at The Reverb I caught the last fifteen minutes of One Second 2 Late, a young band from Newcastle, Ontario. I was reeled in by the band’s onstage ebullience; it was a highly-charged performance, with the leaps and bounds of the band members being accented by some fallout style lighting, with the lamps dialled to ‘atom bomb’ mode. Although, ultimately, their chug-a-long pop rock failed to make a lasting impact on me, and I’d pretty much forgotten what I’d just heard by the time I headed downstairs to the Kathedral. Playing were a similairy named band from Alberta called 10 Second Epic, who were less energetic, and less interesting too. I stayed for a couple of songs before going in search of more music.
Next up, I tried to get into Rok Boutique, but the place was rammed, so I got turned away. I’m glad this happened, because otherwise I might not have walked into Bovine Sex Club that night. Over at Bovine I caught the dying seconds of Voodoo Bunny, and then hung out until GrimSkunk came on at midnight. GrimSkunk were absolutely class!
It’s getting near three years now since I first landed in Canada, and I cannot believe I’ve never heard, or even heard about, GrimSkunk before. Man, I’ve been missing out! It turns out that this Montreal rock band have been around since the late 80’s. During their forty minute set at Bovine, I got to hear a taster of their back catalogue – “America Sucks” and “No Sympathy” were a couple of the songs that I managed to pick up on straight-away.
“GrimSkunk maintain an overall identity to their music, despite it being so eclectically diverse. They touch a nerve with me that very few bands hit.“
GrimSkunk’s vocal work was shared by two guys – Franz Schuller on guitar, and Joe Evil on Keyboard. Franz has a more grungy or reggae style of singing, whilst Joe is more of a shouter and screamer. GrimSkunk maintain an overall identity to their music, despite it being so eclectically diverse. They have a brilliant sound, rich in elements of rock, grunge, prog, synth and reggae, and they deliver it with a punk rock intensity.
GrimSkunk touch a nerve with me that very few bands hit. GrimSkunk at Bovine Sex Club is a gig that I’m going to rave about for a while to anybody who will listen. The very next day I was out searching for GrimSkunk albums in the record stores on Queen West.
I spent the rest of Friday night at the Bovine, where I saw Brazilian band Black Drawing Chalks, who capped the night off nicely. A fun show with some solid tunes, and with the most blatant groping incident I’ve ever seen at a gig, when a middle-aged lady grabbed between the legs of the lead singer.
Saturday. March 14
At the National Film Board cinema, I attended big movie of CMW: Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The NFB is a really small theatre with one screen, which seats some 100 or so people. I know the place, as it was the venue for Reel Awareness last year – a film festival by Amnesty International that I had helped organise. Nothing at that festival had come close to the amount of people that were lined-up to see Anvil here at CMW. There were two lines that snaked down the stairs from either side of the narrow corridor. You really won’t find a more polite and patient bunch of people than Canadian metalheads, as everyone had waited patiently and helped each other form orderly queues. The venue was packed, and extra seats were brought in to the theatre to accommodate people standing on the sides.
“…easily one of the greatest rock ‘n roll movies ever made.“
The movie was an absolute triumph; easily one of the greatest rock ‘n roll movies ever made. The film documents a year in the life of Lips and the other original Anvil member Robb Reiner (drums), who are both now over 50 years old. It charts their beginnings, to a career peek in 1984 when they played the Super Rock festival in Japan, alongside Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. Interview clips from Slash, Lars from Metallica and Lemmy from Motorhead all cite Anvil as being a hugely influential band, that for various reasons had their career swept under the rug, and never got a big break.
Anvil have never given up on their childhood dreams of rock stardom and ‘making it’, and the movie by directorial debutant and life-long Anvil fan Sacha Gervasi does an excellent job at capturing the band’s undying desire to still do themselves justice, and to get the break they feel they deserve. The movie is an Access All Areas view into every aspect of Anvil’s struggles and endeavours. There are more laughs than Spinal Tap, but you also get such a personal glimpse into the life and struggles of the band, especially of Lips, that you’ll need a heart of stone to not feel moved at the critical moments.
The screening of Anvil ended with warm applause. Later that evening Anvil were inducted into ‘The Indies‘ Hall Of Fame, at the Royal York. To me the old school stole the show at CMW, after discovering the excellent GrimSkunk, and with Anvil rightly earning the most headlines of the weekend, stealing the thunder from British band Bloc Party, who were the actual headline act of CMW, for whatever reason.
© Brian Banks
Black Drawing Chalks