The Verge Music Awards 2011 – review, photos and winners

March 3, 2011
By

Gord Downie at the Verge Music Awards 2011, Toronto - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

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!

Tokyo Police Club at the Verge Music Awards 2011, Toronto - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

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12 Responses to The Verge Music Awards 2011 – review, photos and winners

  1. Becker on March 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Pretty surprising results all round. Michou beating Arcade Fire… wacky o_0

  2. stephen cochrane on March 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Yeah, long live Indie!!
    How much longer will ARcade Fire be considered Indie???
    I personally am glad that Michou won,they are great,and Arcade fire is getting enough awards and nominations already.

  3. Crissi on March 4, 2011 at 10:50 am

    The guys in Michou have been working hard touring across the country non-stop for years. They deserve the recognition. Not to mention it wasn’t a panel of judges selecting winners – it was all fan voting. You can’t argue with the support they received from their fans. Its just unfortunate that the other participants didn’t encourage their fans to vote more / didn’t have as strong an online presence as Michou have been working hard to cultivate.

    Also, in light of The Arcade Fire’s surprising take-away at the Grammys, its a bit ironic for an AF fan to criticize another Canadian act for being fortunate enough to do pretty much the exact same thing, but at the Verge Awards.

  4. Christine on March 4, 2011 at 11:20 am

    “The choice is a let-down”

    The winners of all awards were based on fan voting. It wasn’t a panel of judges picking the underdog (Michou), it was all fan support. That band has been touring across the country non-stop for years, they’ve more than earned that award. Hell, they’ve opened for Dashboard Confessional and did a whole tour with Lights, all in the last half of a year.

    Also, I’m pretty sure Michou fans aren’t necessarily CBC Radio 3 listeners, as they’re more of a pop band. Try checking Myspace, where they have 249,000 plays. Or, try checking THE VERGE, where their single “Growing Younger” was the most played track on that station for all of 2010. Or, Much More Music, where their video was number 1 on the countdown.

    In light of the Arcade Fire’s surprising take-away at the Grammys (and the ubiquity of the question “Who are the Arcade Fire?”), it’s a bit ironic to scoff at another Canadian underdog for being fortunate enough to do pretty much the exact same thing, but on a smaller scale.

  5. Fran Crawford on March 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I am well aquainted with the music of all of the great nominees for Artist of the Year. I was happy and proud when Arcade Fire won Album of the Year as I watched live at the Staples Centre last month. However, I was even more stoked that Michou took this award. Listen to them more, and see them live, even better, meet them and you will know why.

  6. Darcy on March 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    ” 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) ”

    Yeah. Clearly not everybody is a fan of CBC and there are plenty of bands that don’t get played on R3 for one reason or another. (Though the guy in Zeus with CBC Radio scarf is clearly a fan.) Other bands become popular through pushing the social networking thing and generating buzz through other platform, such as this one.

  7. Jen on March 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Last time I checke the verge awards are based on fan votes. Personally, I think it’s great to see a hard working small town band win such an award. Developing a widget and offering a free tour to entice fans to vote is smart marketing. You’re upset over this? A music lover such as yourself should be applauding these talented bands trying to make it in a musical era filled with overproduced, synethesize b.s. Arcade fire won a Grammy and didn’t push this vote to their fans. I say, celebrate music and celebrate hard working bands.

  8. Liz on March 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    michou are going to be big!

  9. Christine on March 4, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Sorry I had to post pretty much the same comment twice. I tried to send it on my phone but I didn’t think it worked. Silly Blackberry!

  10. stephen conrad on March 5, 2011 at 11:07 am

    The writer of this article fails to realize that on CBC radio 3 web space when an artist changes their music they loose all previous play counts and start out at zero.
    Michou just put up new songs recently that’s why the plays are so low.
    Do some research before you write.

  11. Brian Banks on March 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Indeed it was a fan-voted award, so fair play to Michou and all the other winners for drumming up the support to take the prize.

    Stephen – I think Natascha did plenty enough research but thanks for pointing out the details about how the counts work on the CBC web site.

    And I encourage all Music Vice writers to speak their minds and have an opinion because there is way too much fluff and “omg this band are awesome, best band everrr!” kind of stuff out there.

    And shout out to Crissi Cochrane for commenting – just played you on Radio Wunderbar. 🙂

    – Brian, Editor

  12. Damon on March 6, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    So the winners were chosen by fans but who decided who the nominees would be in the first place?? Almost seems like the Verge awards nominations were intentionally set up to create a shock winner or 2. It’s the Polaris thing: Fucked Up and then Karkwa both created huge headlines for Polaris so what if XM/Verge were trying to create similar headlines? If it was deliberate then it certainly worked because you can’t get much of a bigger headline than “MICHOU BEAT ARCADE FIRE TO WIN VERGE ARTIST OF THE YEAR” after the year that Arcade Fire had…

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