Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Currente calamo: CMW 2013

CMW 2013*

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. There will eventually be a fuller accounting by and by.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

9 p.m.: DIANA @ Mod Club1

Falling somewhere between club-level showcase and one of the big-ticket "event" shows that CMW attaches its name to for unearned cachet, my first sight at this show was of one of the city's more esteemed music writers being told by a functionary that because this was a "key" show — a designation that no one had previously heard of — photographers would not be allowed if if they weren't on a pre-cleared list. I guess at the last moment the international paparazzi didn't show up, and it was begrudgingly deigned that the locals could take their place.

Anyways, inside, there was a decent crowd on hand to check out DIANA. I'd last seen them at their very first live show and was curious to see how things were coming along. Given that their sonic identity was pretty well-established right out of the gate, I wasn't surprised that the changes here were more refinements than transformations. With a lot more miles under their belts (the band had just come off a string of dates opening for Tegan & Sara), everything was smoother on stage. Paul Mathew (on bass + guitar), who had been tucked away at the back in that first show, especially seemed more integrated into the group, now up front and flanking singer/guitarist Carmen Elle. Front and centre, her vocals remain the centre of attention here, but with the band's generally mellower stylings, she does sometimes look at a bit of a loss for how to channel her on-stage energy. While in her other project Army Girls2, she's free to range across the stage, firing off guitar solos and rockstar poses, she paced around more tentatively here. It didn't affect her performance, but it did lend it a more contained vibe. Meanwhile Kieran Adams (drums) and Joseph Shabason (keybs/sax) masterminded the sonic textures.

It felt like the crowd was mostly unfamiliar with the band, but they were mostly willing to be impressed by the 80's-informed jams — Shabason's first sax solo garnered plenty murmurs of approval, though by the set's end there was a lot of background chatter building up. But this was good work, and the band is clearly prepared to start taking rooms by (quiet) storm.

10 p.m.: Chvrches @ Mod Club

This is the sort of act that festivals are useful for, as there's little chance I'd've gone out of my way to see something like this at a normal show. Glasgow's Chvrches have only a few released songs to go with a boatload of hype, though I came to this without having paid much attention to either. The drummerless trio presented with two sets of synthesizers (played by Iain Cook and Martin Doherty) flanking vocalist Lauren Mayberry. Launching with the electro-pop of "Lies", the initial impression was perhaps something like Ladytron covering Samantha Fox. Mayberry's vocal approach was generally light and airy, and the venue's big sound system provided the crunch via plenty dB's. The variations between songs mostly came on how far the band pushed them down the dance-y axis — my personal inclination had me enjoying things less the further they went in that direction. At it's furthest reaches down that path, it sounded like a bad dance remix of a Sundays tune.

All the bandmembers have served in other groups before this, and they were definitely seasoned stage performers, keeping the show moving. But they also weren't particularly engaging — as a frontwoman, Mayberry entertained with some chipper banter about Canada's contributions to the wider pop culture (she came up with Rush and Ryan Gosling) but didn't have much captivating to do during the songs. That was sort of taken care of for them at the set's climax when a cascade of bubbles sprayed across the audience, which seemed to surprise and delight Mayberry as much as anyone else.

I was neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by the set. (Does a straight-up "whelmed" count as a sort of state of generic neutrality?) I was mildly rankled to note that the club was well-packed for this with excited patrons who'd never bother to come out to any number of local dance-pop units who are generically as good as this, but I guess that's the way of things.3

Listen to a track from this set here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

[I skipped CMW on Thursday to celebrate Spring with Wavelength instead.]

Friday, March 22, 2013

9 p.m.: Maica Mia @ The Silver Dollar Room

Friday was my one full-on night for CMW, but instead of roaming too far, I planned to mostly stick close to the Dollar. It had been a year since I saw Montréal duo Maica Mia, but they'd left a good impression and I was eager to see what they were up to. Playing a bar rather than a loft was probably one reason that they were louder than I remembered, with drummer Jonny Paradise giving the music some forward thrust. But Maica Armata's voice and guitar still had a languidness that defied any attempts at too much propulsion. The upshot was that the band was a bit more Picastro (and less Mazzy Star) than I recalled — but that's definitely not a complaint. Given how long Armata was willing to crouch in front of her amp holding a single chord, it would be very interesting to hear just how much they could stretch things out outside of the constraints of a short festival set. This reaffirmed that they're worth seeing whenever they venture down the 401 to visit us.

10 p.m.: Patti Cake @ Velvet Underground

My one excursion from the Dollar took me down to Queen Street to see a set that was a striking counterpoint to the glacial sombreness I'd just witnessed. Locals Patti Cake traffic in something closer to exuberance — or at least that's the spirit channelled by frontwoman Kritty Uranowski. The recent fashion cover model sings with a smile and a brassy tone that tugs the whole band into a more cheerful, kodachromed landscape. That fits with plenty touches of classic 60's songcraft — including a pair of swaying backing vocalists. But the retro flourishes were countered by some more modernist signifiers, including one song's paean to Lindsay Lohan. Most of the songs here were quite fab, and the overall spirit was bright and welcoming, just right for a sunny day.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: Filthy Haanz @ The Silver Dollar Room

I didn't see anything else on the schedule grid to call me further afield, so I simply ducked back up to the Dollar to see what was going down. Made it back just in time to catch the start of the set by Filthy Haanz, another Montréal combo. This trio would do a lot of switching around between instruments (bass, guitar and keyboards getting swapped around from song to song) and the music reflected that changeable spirit, moving from mildly angsty rock to squelchy funk to sluggish reggae. I think the band was aiming at a sort of insouciant loucheness, but they projected closer to slacker-ish dilettantism. There was a point or two where they settled into an appealing groove, but they were never quite as funky as they aspired to be.

Midnight: Invasions @ The Silver Dollar Room

These locals brought with them the night's largest crowd, and there was no doubt that the raucous crew of friends were out to dance and shout along. There was a lot of energy in the music, but it never quite worked for me. In one of those totally subjective reactions, guitarist Alex Zenkovich's vocals just didn't appeal, and while I could sense where they were trying to take their music beyond basic surf rock clichés, the parts that didn't sound like they were on the verge of becoming "Stray Cat Strut" seemed like they were on the verge of becoming "House of the Rising Sun". Those are hardly unworthy antecedents to chase after (and neither were the Kinks, whose "Dead End Street" was essayed here) but for now I wouldn't say the band has found a satisfactory synthesis. Still, you might prefer to trust the packed-in crowd jumping and singing along here to my notions.

1 a.m.: Xray Eyeballs @ The Silver Dollar Room

Most of that crowd departed before the night's headliner took the stage, though this was the band the I was basing my night around. Silver Dollar booker Dan Burke can usually be counted on to make a canny choice for his festival hat-trick headliners, and I was all the more interested to hear 'em on finding out they were an offshoot of reverb-surfers Golden Triangle.4 This band foregrounded singer/guitarist O.J. San Felipe, backed by bass, guit/keybs, and a stand-up drummer. Armed with a drumpad alongside his Mo Tucker-ish setup, that hybrid percussion sound brings to mind locals Odonis Odonis, and there are a few appealing points of comparison here in terms of scrappy catchiness. But if OO's surfgaze draws something from the Mary Chain, then Xray Eyeballs have more of a Martin Hannett/early New Order chassis underlying their party rock as well as some art in their rigourously stripped-down aesthetic. That intriguing mix of sounds was enough to have me enjoying this quite a lot.

Listen to a track from this set here.

2 a.m.: The BB Guns @ The Silver Dollar Room

I was starting to wear down, enough so that I was wondering if I should just head home and miss a band that I'd seen on this same stage just a couple weeks ago. But it's hard to slip out on The BB Guns right now, given how they've really hit their stride. The "girl group garage" gang (with their début EP on the way) are pretty confident in their balancing of sock-hop sass and punkish attitude. On stage, that split can be seen in the way guitarist Alana deVee (all kinetic verve) works alongside vocalist Laura Hermiston and keyboard player Charlotte Marie's slightly more demure presence. Playing near the end of a cavalcade of festival acts meant that the vocals were a little buried, so the whole set came out a little more rangy and fierce than usual — but that's a good way to keep people's attention as the hour grows late. This is a band that's thriving in the local dives while playing at a really high level right now — you should see 'em while the moment lasts.5

Saturday, March 23, 2013

7 p.m.: Giant Hand @ Cameron House (Back Room)

My Saturday night was devoted to the final Long Winter show at The Great Hall, but en route I stopped in for one last CMW set — it's always good to try and show support for the folks who get stuck with the early time slots. Kirk Ramsay has been "half hiding, half writing new music," and hasn't been manifesting as Giant Hand much in the past year. That also made this a chance to hear a few of his new songs. On a first hearing, they weren't radically removed from his previous material — the guy who famously decided to take up the guitar after seeing a Daniel Johnston documentary is still working in the same vein of mining internal/external dread and investigating the spaces where the two overlap. A song on the piano, played with one-handed, two-fingered clawed chords was a new touch and a demonstration that just as you don't need more than a flashlight held up to your chin to tell a horror story, you don't need ornate musical backdrops to tell a story in song. Hopefully the next sighting will not be so long in coming.

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.

1 It has been a fair while since I've been to the Mod Club — in fact, I don't think I've been since they've had some corporate sponsor glommed onto the front of their name. I have no plans to acknowledge that, and unless said company is cutting you a cheque, I suggest you don't either.

2 DIANA's recent success has meant things have been quiet in the Army Girls camp as of late, but there's some upcoming dates promised to make up for it. So far, the only one announced is a knock-out of a gig, with the band opening up (alongside Absolutely Free) for Moon King at The Drake Underground on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Mark that one down as a must-see.

3 Anyone who wants to see some dance-y electronic musicians who are actively pushing things forward should come out for Silent Shout's showcase at The White House on Friday, April 19, 2013, featuring the peerless Tenderness and the rising force of Petra Glynt alongside Violence and Vierance. [FB event] And for those who are swept up in the hype, Chvrches have already announced their return on June 12, 2013.

4 Based on their various internet presences, it looks like Golden Triangle are definitely inactive, if not altogether defunct.

5 The BB Guns will be returning to the Dollar in support of Bleached on Thursday, April 25, 2013 — by which time we'll probably have clearer release details about their EP.

No comments:

Post a Comment