Gig/Concert: Canadian Music Week 2010 (Canadian Music Fest)
Venue: Various venues across Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 10-14 March 2010
Headliners: Our Lady Peace, Bedouin Soundclash
In one word: Hectic
With the banner for this year’s Canadian Music Fest* proudly claiming “700 bands, 45 venues”, it was a bit of a head-scratcher deciding where to go, so I settled into my usual game plan that I adopt for these kind of multi-venue festivals which is pretty much to hop around between as many venues as I can, stopping only when I find something I like. Unfortunately, this game plan became rather defunct when I soon found myself being turned away at venues by being told, “tickets only, no more passes or badges.” That experience of getting denied access to gigs due to venues being at their ‘limit’ for CMW wristband or media badge holders was an all too frequent and frustrating occurrence, though from the organisers perspective it showed that Canadian Music Week is seemingly more popular than ever. Particularly frustrating was being denied access to Vivian Girls gig at Wrongbar – I understand that the discretion lies with each individual venue in terms of deciding how many punters with wristbands and media with badges to allow in, but it did really seem to me like some venues were being a bit too tight or ‘restrictive’ with allowing access to pass holders.
Rants aside, (at least for a moment), a surprise consolation prize came as an upshot from that Wrongbar denial when I walked down the road to the Cadillac Lounge to catch a fun set from local folk band Tin Star Orphans. Lead singer and guitarist Zachary Bennett was particularly entertaining, frequently gurning with what was a serious case of guitar face – and the face was fitting because Tin Star Orphans did have a few meaty chops going on here, but I was less taken by the singing style of Bennett, which is rather odd and strained.
Earlier on Wednesday evening I’d missed out on seeing Kate Miller-Heidke at the Mod Club, a lady whom we’ve previously given glowing reviews of from performances in her native Australia. That was disappointing but I stuck around for a while and somehow kept patience long enough to endure the entire set of the effervescent and effeminate electro rock stylings of Montreal’s The Mission District – what a load of bollocks that was. The band had commented that it was a “bit different” for them to be playing to an audience largely made up of adults, because it turns out they don’t normally play +19 shows (the common age limit in Canada) and on the evidence of this I think they might be better off sticking to playing gigs to more easily convinced/fooled young teenyboppers, particularly female or effeminate ones. Too many haircuts and not enough substance – the synth player’s Morrisey-esque quiff was more memorable than any of the beats.
A whole lot more enjoyable were Columbia who I caught for the first half of their set, after catching a street car over to Neutral in Kensington Market – in hindsight I would have stuck around longer for this band from Vancouver, BC who are a bit like a Canadian rootsy version of Oasis. Well, just a wee bit…
If Wednesday had been frustrating then Thursday was exasperating (pardon the melodrama), starting with being denied access to Sally Seltmann’s Arts & Crafts showcase at The Great Hall, in a similar way that I’d been denied access to a couple of CMW conferences earlier that day at the Royal York. Being denied access to shows was a minor annoyance compared to an incident leading to my camera being damaged, causing me to abandon Forest City Lovers gig at the Drake Hotel – they were good for what I saw, and their set included a new song from their forthcoming album. I exited to make my way to a nearby corner store to purchase some duct tape to re-affix the control button to my camera, and that DIY repair job may not have been the perfect fix but it was good enough for me to be able to at least get some photos during the rest of the week.
I was ready to give up on CMW for Thursday, but fate had twisted my arm behind my back and led me to Clinton’s on Bloor Street where I witnessed a seven-piece orchestral folk pop band from Seattle called Hey Marseilles. Hey Marseilles were excellent and a real surprise package. Playing to a crowd that numbered roughly the same as the band, it was a really exclusive performance which was wholly enjoyed by the few smiling faces who saw it. Hey Marseilles combine the traditional rock instruments with a cello, an accordion, and a violin to create some stompin’ good folk rock. The musicianship of the band was impressive, as was their unity and synergy, with the attentiveness of the group clear to see in the way they seemed to hang in waiting for singer Matt Bishop to move to the next part of a song, with Bishop being both the lead singer and orchestrator. The lyrics were impressive too with some nice poetry and wordplay, and often impacting enough that I found myself jotting down some of the more vivid lines in my notepad. Hey Marseilles were a real breathe of fresh air and my highlight of Canadian Music Week.
And so to Friday night where I made sure that I turned up early enough at the Mod Club to be certain I got inside for Bedouin Soundclash. I caught most of the set of opening act Charlie Winston who is an entertaining oddball, the highlight being when he moved around the Mod Club, leaping up on the bar as the crowd sung along to the ridiculous sing-a-long that is “My Life as a Duck”. The English singer-songwriter enjoyed number one chart success in France last year with his second album Hobo, and on the evidence of this performance he might have what it takes to gain a following in Canada – especially Quebec, seeing as French people seem to hold a special affection for Winston’s quirkiness.
Bedouin Soundclash served up a set of reggae, dub and soul that went down a storm, and the gig wrapped up in time for me to head over to Comfort Zone to catch the tail-end of Huron’s set, with psychedelic rock delivered by some spacey effects-pedal powered trippy guitar and a bit of lap steel, before musician and producer Ian Blurton joined Huron on stage for what was a seamless transition for Ian Blurton’s Happy Endings to take over. My only previous run-in with Ian Blurton was in 2007 in Montreal when I’d met him backstage with his main band C’mon – Blurton is a lot slimmer now, but still has his signature full beard. Blurton and co. laid down a few nice grooves, replete with much string bending but my interest waned after a while and this lacked the intensity of a C’mon concert, and to me Blurton is very much at his best when with C’mon, especially given the fiery on-stage chemistry he shares with his girlfriend who is the bassist in that band.
Saturday was the final day of Canadian Music Week for me and most others, and it was much a case of unwinding after four hectic days of running around Toronto.
A special mention to The Rural Alberta Advantage (their album Hometowns was my favourite of 2009) who I was pleased to see pick up the Galaxie Rising Star award; very much deserved.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice
Photos from Canadian Music Week