Gig/Concert: Toronto Plays for Haiti benefit concert
Venue: Sound Academy, Polson Street, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 2 February 2010
Headliners: USS, Maestro Fresh Wes, Die Mannequin, illScarlett et al.
In one word: Emphatic
On a Tuesday night in Toronto musicians and fans united to raise $40,000 to provide help to Haiti, a figure which was doubled thanks to the Canadian government matching the amount, giving a total of $80,000 to UNICEF Canada to provide aid to the disaster-hit country.
The streets outside had been dusted with an early evening snowfall but the mood inside the Sound Academy was far from being cold and frosty – the atmosphere tonight was one of unanimous warmth and fun, as once again music proved to be a fantastic vehicle for bringing out compassion and awareness. Toronto Plays for Haiti was an emphatic reminder to us all of how to be human, while enjoying some great music at the same time.
The organisers of Toronto Plays for Haiti did a fantastic job of putting together a great line-up of Canadian musicians, while there were also a few well-known Canadian athletes in house (or at least they were well-known to Canadians, that’s a bit of a grey area for me, but Donovan Bailey had made an appearance earlier, a bloke who I recall used to run a bit quick).
With such a big line-up of artists, sets were restricted to around four or five songs per band. The Trews were first on. I’ve been aware of this band from Nova Scotia for quite a while, and they enjoy a decent amount of radio play here in the Great White North but nothing I’ve ever heard from them has ever really taken my interest; but tonight in the live setting it was a different story. Playing a semi-acoustic set with the four band members perched on stools at the front of the stage, The Trews provided a surprisingly enjoyable start to the evening. Notable was lead singer Colin MacDonald who can really carry a tune. “Hold Me In Your Arms” sounded particularly good but the cover of “Stand By Me” was the most memorable moment and well suited to the occasion.
A bigger surprise was Moneen, a band who I’ve previously been even more disinterested in. While their set of emo-drenched rock is not about to convert me as a fan, credit has to be given for a lively performance. “Believe” was probably the best-received of their own material but it was the final song of their set that really got people moving. Their cover of The Darkness’ “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” was one of the highlights of the evening, and when frontman Kenny Bridges hopped the barrier into the crowd it was reminiscent of an early Justin Hawkins (before all of his problems).
Die Mannequin brought some legitimate rock n’ roll to proceedings, with ample intensity and just enough trash n’ thrash. With their singer Care Failure looking a suitably affected, the theatrics of her fall-on-the-floor performance added to the delivery of their songs and the overall gutter-punk-meets-Sunset-Strip-trash feel of the band. Die Mannequin opened with “Do It Or Die” before playing material from their debut album Fino + Bleed, with the two big songs from that album “Dead Honey” and “Bad Medicine” both executed well. When Care Failure wasn’t on guitar, Robby Ruckus of Darlings of Chelsea stepped in to provide some ever-solid rhythm chops.
Maestro Fresh Wes brought something different to the table and reminded everyone why he is the first person to mention when you talk about the history of hip hop in Canada. Chances are that many of the younger audience members were hearing Maestro for the first time but it didn’t take long for him to school everyone into singing and waving along, with “Drop The Needle” being the pick of his set.
illScarlett kept the energy up, though their set and that of The Junction both passed by in something of a blur, especially with the two remaining bands on the bill dominating my short-term memory. First, The Salads who were joined by rapper Choclair (another big name in Canadian hip hop) were a whole lot of fun, with their fusion of rock, reggae and funk going down a storm. Good times for sure, but the best was still too come, but not before another of many on-stage reminders of what the evening was all about and an update on how much money had been raised.
Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker, or USS as they are thankfully better known, were bonkers. Pure. Freaking. Bonkers. Human Kebab came bounding onto stage swinging and whipping his microphone around by its cord, somehow managing not to maim anyone, and would continue to bounce around for the duration of the set whenever he wasn’t standing behind his mixing desk. Meanwhile on stage left Ashley Boo-Schultz was a whole lot more sedentary, or at least with his movements, and made up for it with his fruitloop raver-kid attire. USS played a wicked set, with their Molotov cocktail of electro rhythms, drum n’ bass loops and guitar grooves delivered with explosive aplomb. They ended with their breakthrough song “Hollowpoint Sniper Hyperbole”.
USS exited before the event organisers and all the bands who had stuck around took to the stage for a rendition of Bill Wither’s classic “Lean On Me”. The timeless lyrics of that song could not have been more fitting for the occasion and it was the ideal send-off for a night of great music, unity and remembering to care.
© Brian Banks