Gig/Concert: Pinktober Breast Cancer Charity Gig featuring Holly McNarland with The Barettas and Magneta Lane
Venue: Hard Rock Cafe Lounge, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 23 October 2009
Headliners: Holly McNarland
In one word: Pensive
I wish life was always like this. This happy feeling after a rock show, fading slowly as my hearing recovers. The sweet comedown before the crash and then the numbness until the pre-show buzz of the next show kicks in. Ah… too poetic? Anyway…
On a very wet and windy evening the streets in downtown Toronto were scarcely populated compared to an average Friday night. Some of those brave enough to face the elements made it to the Hard Rock Cafe for an evening of music under the banner of Pinktober: the global restaurant chain’s campaign for breast cancer awareness. The weather clearly had an impact on the turnout, and even looking outside the window at Yonge-Dundas Square there weren’t that many people outside at Toronto’s equivalent of NYC’s Time Square.
There was a low attendance but those who did make it came in good spirits. Many also came in a generous mood and by the end of the night a silent auction, consisting of various goodies including concert tickets and box sets, had raised several hundreds of dollars for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
There couldn’t have been more than thirty people scattered around the bar and lounge as The Barettas started off the evening’s fare. Unfazed by having so much empty floor space in front of them, this trio of ladies played with an unabashed enthusiasm. Led by singer and guitarist Katie Bulley, attired in a vintage style black dress, she has the style of a seventies diva which is reflected in the music of her band. Completing the line-up is Kate Kimberley on bass/backing-vox and the tattooed drummer Carly Killotta.
The Barettas are three rock chicks with rock chic. With a turn of a dial their music can hop from plod-a-long surfer rock to bluesy-jazz beats to more grittier and faster moments. All the while the music is carried by the doleful crooning of Bulley.
Midway through The Barettas set comes Steel City Sleeze, an anthem from their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. This song was sung with a lip-curling snarl by Bulley, and carried by a dirty beat, and growling guitar and bass. However, much of The Barettas music is an audio adventure that is far removed from the industrial decay of the town they come from. Quit Snakin’ My Waves is one such example of this escapism – Snakin’ is a tune that sounds like it should be stuck in the tape deck of a 1960’s cadillac convertible while cruising around the beaches, diners and dives of California.
I’ve been following the progress of The Barettas since first hearing about them last summer, shortly after the band had formed. They are still very much a work in progress, but already they have a sound that is quite separate to everything else happening in Southern Ontario right now.
And then I saw Magneta Lane and fell in love. The slow moody drum and guitar intros, the garage thump, the pensive vibe of it all.
Magneta Lane had an engaging stage presence, so much so that I actually only shot a dozen photographs during the course of their set, which is a pretty low number. Lexi Valentine (vocals/guitar) was sheepishly enchanting, her head frequently bowed over the mic as she focused on her guitar playing, raising face now and then to dart browned-eyed glances into the audience and give a smile while singing. A female lead singer ready made to melt the hearts of guys in the crowd if I ever saw one.
Meanwhile to Valentine’s side was the textbook example of a moody and totally disinterested looking bass player, as a blonde girl armed with an Epiphone Goth Thunderbird stood blank-faced with her eyes gazing off into nowhere. I knew nothing of Magneta Lane before this night but I had already made up my mind that the bassist must be French, or at the very least Quebecois, what with that stripy top and that nonchalanty cool body language – turns out that “French” is her name! Brilliant.
At the end of their set I walked up to Lexi Valentine with the words “You guys are awesome!”. Lexi commented that her voice was not at her best, just as she had done at the start of the gig by telling the crowd that she was just recovering from the flu. So by their own admission they were not on top form, but that only makes me more intrigued in this band – if Magneta Lane can ooze this kind of transfixing coolness at a charity gig with a small turnout, then what kind of atmosphere is possible at a sold-out show? This was the most pleasant surprise I’ve seen at a show since Sean Hamilton’s Jenny rocked Tubby Dog in Calgary back in May. Sometimes the smallest and tamest gigs unearth the best gems.
I’ll forgive myself for not knowing about this band sooner, especially as its only six weeks since I’ve arrived permanently in Toronto, and now I’m just excited to have discovered for myself one of Toronto’s best kept secrets. Magneta Lane just released their second full-length record Gambling With God in September on Last Gang Records. Check them out.
Ending the night was Holly McNarland, a singer-songwriter from Vancouver. McNarland picked up a Juno back in 1998 for Best New Solo Artist and she had a few dedicated fans in house tonight, including one bloke called Lou who had told me in great detail about his love for McNarland. Lou had stumbled across this show by pure chance after he and his wife had been eating downstairs in the restaurant segment of the Hard Rock Cafe. Lou and the rest of the crowd gave McNarland warm support as she played this show on her 34th birthday.
At times McNarland’s singing was so intense that you didn’t know how to react … what’s the word for that again? Stunning. Intensely emotive and straight from the heart for sure. Not something I could get into myself but I think I might end up buying a McNarland record for my mum this Christmas – good thing she doesn’t use the internet.
© Brian Banks
I Dig The Alley, But Not The Birds
Quit Snakin’ My Waves
Steel City Sleeze
Killer In The House
Dancing With Daggers
You’ll Forget About Me
Wait For You
Dry As A Bone
Bye Bye Boy