The Gig: The Verge Music Awards presented by XM Canada
Where: The Mod Club, Toronto, Ontario
When: 1 March 2011
In One Word: Goosebumps
The Verge Music Awards, postponed from their initial September 2010 date so as not to fall in the shadow of the Polaris Prize, have been a long time coming. In light of this, it is especially exciting to be at the Mod Club tonight with MV editor Brian Banks this March 1st, rubbing shoulders with bands and industry types. There are three prizes to give away tonight, and three musical performances. In addition to the 2 prizes of best album and artist of the year (which are worth $25,000 each) The Verge is able to offer a $5,000 prize in partnership with non-profit FACTOR to the emerging artist of the year. The nominees of the evening are taken from the top-ranking songs from the station’s countdown show The Grocery List, and then voted upon by listeners.
The show begins with a change in scheduling as The Acorn take to the stage, leaving me to wonder if I have missed the emerging artist award. I have not, and after a very average performance by The Acorn (a band with no particular stand-out qualities), the prize goes to Hannah Georgas. I’m pretty happy with the decision- I can’t withstand Hannah’s songwriting coupled with her heart-stealing gaze- although nominees the Rural Alberta Advantage (whose new album dropped this Tuesday) and PS I Love You both merit some attention.
A brief interlude follows before Jeff Leake comes back to give out the award for album of the year. Up for the award are albums Cardona by Michou, The 5 Ghosts by Stars, Sainthood by Tegan and Sara, Say Us by Zeus, and Tic Toc Tic by The Zolas. My pick for the award, and Music Vice local favourites, Zeus take the prize – but don’t come to the stage to accept the award, which is perplexing because they’ve been floating around the venue all night. Later in the evening they correct this mistake, but not before a performance by Newmarket natives Tokyo Police Club. It has been almost five years since I last saw this band play at my frosh week festivities, around the same time when “The Nature of The Experiment” was trending. The band that I wrote off then for only having one decent single on an LP of filler material has grown into a band that now has two decent singles – and a whole lot more filler material. However, the crowd reaches its apex during TPC’s high energy performance, which baffles me as there are no teenage girls in house tonight.
The big prize of the night, artist of the year, is awarded to Michou by previous prize winners Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew. The choice is a letdown. In my eyes, The Arcade Fire made themselves the rightful heirs to that after selling enough copies of “The Suburbs” to suburban watchers of the Grammy Awards to win album of the year. None of the other nominees (which include Tegan and Sara, Stars, and Zeus) seem like suitable runners-up, but Michou (a band that has only 166 plays on CBC Radio 3’s site and who has never been featured on a single Radio 3 podcast) seems an especially unpalatable choice.
The show stealer of the evening is Gord Downie’s performance with The Country of Miracles. At least it is for those who stay long enough to see his set (many leave after TPC’s performance). In his merry band is regular contributor Gord Downie contributor Julie Doiron, Dave Clark who I recognize from the Woodchopper’s Association and The Rheostatics, Dale Morningstar (also of Rheostatics), Josh Finlayson of Skydiggers, and Dr. Pee.
Last year Gord Downie put out one of my favourite albums of the year, The Grand Bounce. In this pool of youngsters vying to become the next Canadian super group, veteran Gord Downie has that thing that all the nominees are striving for. Memorability. Although I had no particular desire to hear the album which Downie released last summer, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard it for the first time. I was 35,000 feet up in an airplane headed east to Nova Scotia with my boyfriend. We had missed our evening flight and had to wait for the next one, but maybe it worked out for the best- because here we were, listening to Gord Downie on the in flight entertainment console while a rare display of the Northern Lights lit up the sky from Oshawa through New Brunswick. The moment had all the makings of a Gord Downie album – love, restlessness, and the surprising poetics of the Canadian landscape.
One such travel song in a set that spanned Downie’s 3 solo albums particularly got to MV editor Brian Banks; “This guy is absolutely class! Now I know why Canadians speak with such pride about Gord Downie!” As it turned out, the two have moved in similar drifts across the country. Among the songs performed live were “The Hard Canadian”, “As a Mover”, “Canada Geese”, and the “Vancouver Divorce”. The musicians switched instruments amongst each other for different songs, and we were delighted when a reverbatron appeared for one song. For the encore, Gord played The Grand Bounce’s single “The East Wind” with just Julie before inviting the band back on stage to end the night with a little parade.
After the show we stood in front of the stage, bristling with afterglow goosebumps and hoping that Gord might come out and shake some hands. We have no such luck- but still, I feel good knowing that Downie first-timer Brian is coming out of this experience feeling that he has something to write home about.
© Natascha Malta, Music Vice
Pictures from The Verge awards 2011 – photographs by Brian Banks:
Music Vice would like to congratulate all the winners – a special big shout to one our favourite Toronto bands, Zeus – hats off boys!