Friday, December 9, 2011

Festival: CMW 2011 (Thursday)

CMW 2011* (Thursday) (feat. The Wilderness of Manitoba / Miracle Fortress / Imaginary Cities / Young Galaxy)

Thursday, March 10, 2011.

This is an expansion of my initial notes from the festival, which can be found here.

8:00 P.M.: The Wilderness of Manitoba @ Lee's Palace

For their first time at Lee's, these local folk harmonizers were happy to be playing in their own backyard ("just a twenty minute walk from our house"), making for an easier time than the bands coming from all around the world. They were also playing, at the outset, to a crowd that they could have fit in their house, facing the that typical festival early-slot slightly antiseptic sight of an empty-ish bar with about a half-dozen camera-toting types in front of the stage, snapping away — and not much else.

Showing some awareness of the environment they'd be playing in, the band put together a very well-constructed setlist. After starting with "Hermit", just to announce themselves, they followed with a few quieter songs while the room was quiet — "The Great Hall" got a very nice reading — and after that ramping it up as the place filled in, ending with their more rambunctious material. That meant Will Whitwham's vocals weren't lost along the chatter too much. There was also a nice mix of older and newer material, with "Evening" and the fine new "Chasing Horses" rubbing shoulders before the set closed out with a rollicking version of "Dreamcatchers".1

Listen to a track from this set here.

9:00 P.M.: Miracle Fortress @ Lee's Palace

"We'd like to introduce you to some new songs," said Graham Van Pelt as he finished his preparations. True to his word, he presented a set filled with material that would emerge a couple months later on sophomore album Was I the Wave?. He also brought his own lights, laser-y pinpoints that zigzagged around the dancefloor, occasionally blinding audience members with direct light blasts2 while leaving the stage almost entirely in darkness. The Remain in Light-ish textures of "Tracers", including an extended instrumental intro, showed off Van Pelt's new sound, which brings a definite unified sensibility, although a rather different one than he displayed on his first album. Although I'd had a hint that this was the direction he was going in, one got the sense that some people in the crowd were disappointed that it was different songs and a different sound that what they already knew.

Also on stage was drummer Greg Napier, who also plays alongside Van Pelt in Think About Life as well as in his own project Special Noise. Right up front and facing the singer, he was turned perpendicular to the crowd — a layout that may well bring to mind Woodhands, which can only raise unflattering comparisons to that band's Paul Banwatt. Here, rather than driving things, Napier felt more like window-dressing, adding accents to the rhythm tracks. The show could have gone on without him, but he did add some kineticism on stage.

It turned out to be a relatively quick set — just five songs — ending with the I'll-House-You-isms of "Raw Spectacle". But it was certainly enough to make a bold statement of what his new album would be like.

Listen to a track from this set here.

10:00 P.M.: Imaginary Cities @ Lee's Palace

Weirdly enough, when I had previously seen Winnipeg's Imaginary Cities, it was also while I was waiting to see Young Galaxy. And the most glib evaluation I could give of them would be to say that they are a pleasant diversion to pass the time while you wait for another band.

That last time 'round they were pretty new as a unit and a generally unknown quality, their biggest calling card being Rusty Matyas' known affiliations with The Waking Eyes and as a touring member of The Weakerthans. But less than a year later, they definitely had a few woo-hooing fans, and, impressively, one dude who stood up front, mouthing all the lyrics to himself.

And there were signs of a band with a lot more miles on the road — "Say You" had a bit more belt to it, and the band presented with more swagger generally. Marti Sarbit's soul-referencing vocal stylings are the band's best feature, and she was in good form here.

Some of the material felt like stuck-in-first ballad-fodder, like "Where'd all the Living Go" — even if it gave Matyas and the bassist a chance to show off some co-ordinated "rock" moves. And it was good to see that the band is expanding their songbook with new material like "Cherry Blossom Tree" and "Marry the Sea", but maybe because the set was front-loaded with the older, road-tested stuff and the latter part with more of their newer songs that I found it most pleasant at the start followed by diminishing returns.

They certainly put their all into it. By the time the band went out with slow-dance "That's Where it's at Sam", Sarbit sounded winded. And they'd clearly won over a few more people, though ultimately it just doesn't seem like they're fated to have a particularly electrifying effect on me.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:00 P.M.: Young Galaxy @ Lee's Palace

Swapping fire for water, Young Galaxy decided to push themselves out of their safety zone, reinventing themselves with a glossier, more-dancefloor/less-rock sound on their Shapeshifting album, which they were launching with a quick tour before pausing for some parental leave. And though it is a sonic departure, it's also a continuing evolution from where they had been. Including, for example, in the increased reliance on Catherine McCandless as the lead vocalist, announced here right from the start on "Blown Minded". She has a striking vocal presence, and puts a more unique stamp on the music than partner Stephen Ramsay. For this show, whether it was the challenge of playing new songs with a new lineup or the added wrinkle of being pronouncedly pregnant, she wasn't quite nailing all her marks here — "Phantoms", for example, felt like it was just hinting at its potential.

"It's all so new for us. It's like a new band, basically... it's the first time we've played these songs live." said Ramsay, who was still in top form in handling the bulk of the banter. Now a five-piece, Ramsay (guit) and McCandless (keyb and electronics) were joined by an additional keyboard player, bass and drums, and for this being the first show for this incarnation of the live band, it went generally well. That Ramsay was pretty open about it all ("we're not slick yet... so thanks for your kindness.") made it feel more endearing than stiff.

"This is the dance test," Ramsay said before "Peripheral Visionaries", and after an opening shapeshift-y trio of songs, there was an "old one", with "Queen Drum" to act as a reminder of the past. Even it had some additional electronic textures in the background, and in another switch, "Long Live the Fallen World", which had served as set closer for the past while, had been supplanted by "B.S.E.". That'd be "Black Swan Event" to the less acronym-minded, and its refrain of being "intoxicated by re-invention" was sort of the key to the whole thing.

Listen to a track from this set here.

* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW — although there was a part of me that also considered using the slightly cumbersome "Canadian Music Fest presented by Canadian Music Week" throughout.

1 No pending live dates for the band, but if you're seasonally inclined, they've just released a couple xmas songs.

2 Miracle Fortress: come for the songs, stay for the free laser eye surgery! It should be noted that at CMW, with so many media types around, a standing-in-the-dark type of stage presentation often has the unintended effect of forcing the photogs to break out the flash, kinda undermining the effect.

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