CMW 2012 (Saturday)*
While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. I'm a nerd for not wanting to throw my full reviews out of sequence, so there'll be a fuller accounting of the night by and by.
4 p.m.: Zeus @ Sonic Boom
Unsurprisingly, after playing what I heard was the most-packed, line-around-the-block showcase of the festival the night before, this brought out the biggest in-store crowd to Sonic Boom that I've ever seen in the new location. The aisles were filled in, and there were lots of folks with little kids, which is always an excellent sign. On the cusp of releasing Busting Visions, their sophomore disc, the band was relatively clean-shaven and looking ready to prove themselves ("We have high hopes it," Carlin Nicholson told the crowd.)
Most of the set was new material (they only dipped into Say Us for "Marching Through Your Head") and it veers beyond the easy power-pop Beatles encapsulations that worked for the debut, with some 70's keyb wigginess and the occasional vague reggae lilt in the mix for the slightly more expansive songs. The set ended with the new album's title track, complete with what's surely to become a crowd-pleasing cowbell breakdown. The band mentioned they'd be back in town for a full, proper show at The Phoenix in June.
Listen to a track from this set here.
5 p.m.: Sandman Viper Command @ Sonic Boom
Even as the large bulk of the crowd slipped away, I stuck around to check out Sandman Viper Command. I'd been meaning for a while to cross paths again with this local quartet for a progress report. They have an engaging two-guitar sound, and Aaron Harvey's basslines kept a pleasingly bouncing momentum alongside Matt Meyer's drums. Overall, I'd say I'm closer to respecting than loving the band, but there's enough likeable elements here not to write them off — Dan Reardon's guitar work certainly adds the most interesting edges to the sound. The much-younger cadre that was up front for this really dug it, and when you see that a band like this has fans out singing along to themselves you have to figure they're doing something right.
6 p.m.: Writer's Strike @ Sonic Boom
There was general disappointment in the air that a much-anticipated set from Rich Aucoin was cancelled — everyone was curious to see how he would have fit his parachute and group dancing into the store's space. But in his stead, he sent his Halifax-based tourmates Writer's Strike. I didn't know anything about them, but I decided to get a taste. As it turned out, the band's sound could be described as sorta stereotypically "indie" with anthemic aspirations against vocals that move from yelpy solo vox to group singalongs. And lots of instrument switching between songs. To that end, I wasn't sure if I'd heard their "New York City" before, or if I was just familiar with all of its component parts. Regardless, it was admittedly catchy.
It also looked like they were learning some tricks from Aucoin that made them a fun band to experience live, from having lyric signs held aloft to encourage audience participation to a finale where they handed out homemade flags to turn the area in front of the stage to a lake of waving fabric. Not precisely my thing, but there's potential here musically, and they already know how to be engaging on stage.
9:30 p.m.: Connoisseurs of Porn @ Comfort Zone
After a dinner break with some friends, my night-time schedule wasn't particularly fixed. I wandered down to College and Spadina, figuring I'd see if I could find something interesting. Ducked into sets at the Silver Dollar and the El Mo, but didn't hear anything that made me want to pay closer attention. The free poutine at the M pour Montréal showcase was appreciated, though.
Wanting something less user-friendly, I wandered down to Comfort Zone for the showcase put together by Resonancity and Buzz Records. Given that this was a sort of weird little outgrowth on the festival schedule, it wasn't too shocking that this one wasn't running on "CMW time", but even early on, there were enough familiar faces arriving that it was pleasant enough to hang out.
The showcase proper started with Mississauga's Connoisseurs of Porn and the tone was set with vocalist Grant Spooner taking the stage dressed only in his underwear and a pair of piano key socks. Noisy stuff — spasmodic but not entirely untuneful — the music even occasionally veered into a co-ordinated stomp. Down in the dark netherworld of the Comfort Zone, this all made sense, and it was an entertaining ride. Plus: where else at CMW could you see dudes stumbling around in their underwear and screaming? (Well, to be sure, I'm not entirely clear what's going on in those industry suites.)
10 p.m.: Devin Therriault @ Silver Dollar
Wandered upstairs to a surprisingly quiet Dollar to see what was going on up there. Turned out to be Devin Therriault on stage. With just a bass/drums rhythm section behind Therriault, this had a stripped-down, scrappy feel, exhibiting a heavy Strokes influence but with an amped-up soul kick. One song brushed up aginst The Animals, and I got the notion that the band might have been listening to some Stax sides while mapping out their backing vocals. I wouldn't want to foreground that stuff too much though — it was there, but mostly as a leavening agent against the Strokes-yness. All told, a pleasant surprise.
11 p.m.: Whale Tooth @ Lee's Palace
My source told me that it wasn't too crowded up at Lee's, so I decided to switch up my plans and get up there for The Inbreds. Prudence dictated, however, that I shouldn't wait too long, so I jumped on the streetcar to get up there for the preceeding set. Obviously a tightly-run ship, I walked in right at the top of the hour and the band was just underway. And indeed, while it was getting busy, I had no problem finding a spot down on the floor in front of the stage.
The band turned out to be Whale Tooth. Though I'd never seen them play, I was passingly familiar with their music. I'd even seen frontwoman Elise LeGrow in her solo jazz persona a couple CMW's ago, so I knew that she had substantial talent as a singer. That voice as well as LeGrow's, um, physical presence were definitely the best things about the band — her propensity to leap in the air or spin around on stage dancing was infectious. And the four-man crew alongside her provided an upbeat, dance-friendly vibe with a high energy level. It was fun and definitely entertaining to watch though I wouldn't say any of the songs rubbed off on me.
Midnight: The Inbreds @ Lee's Palace
It felt like a pretty quick turnover after that, but then again there wasn't a lot to set up for The Inbreds — just bass and drums, of course. That I had come out to see them again a day after their in-store appearance would probably indicate the esteem in which I hold the band, though as they hit and stage and launched into "Matterhorn" I didn't quite get the been-waiting-so-long buzz that I'd felt the day before. But I could feel it being set off in the people all around me, and as the pair started to hit some of the material that they'd held back the day before, I could feel my joyfulness growing. When they launched into "Prince" — the first song of theirs that registered with me when I originally saw the band at a Hilario-era show opening for The Rheostatics — I was a little giddy.
There were a few more surprises in expanding things out to a full set, including a guest turn from Wayne Petti, adding his voice to "North Window". That was a lot of fun, though that was one of the few songs that Mike O'Neill couldn't quite catch up to. It was after that the set really hit its stride, with top-notch renditions of Winning Hearts' "Never Be" and "Get Along". Even the rough spots made things more endearing, such as O'Neill taking a mulligan to restart a solo during "He Never", and later ending another song suddenly when he managed to disconnect his bass cable.
It seemed like the band was taking an extra-long break while the crowd chanted for an encore, but the reason was apparent when drummer Dave Ullrich returned to the stage in an Elvis jumpsuit, complete with cape. Instead of returning behind the kit, he strapped on the bass while O'Neill took over the drums for a role-reversal version of "The Runaround". It was a little rangy but extraordinarily fun, and then they switched back to close the whole thing out with "Amelia Earhart", arguably their greatest song. So glad I went to this.
Listen to a couple songs from this set here.
1 a.m.: Absolutely Free @ Comfort Zone
I got back down to Comfort Zone to see the other end of the showcase there, with the last band already on the stage, but not too far along into their set. Absolutely Free is a rebirth, of sorts, with four-fifths of the members of DD/MM/YYYY reformulating and refocusing. As I found myself a spot, they were settled into a surging kosmische groove. There was a lot of gear on stage, and the members shifted around a lot, even mid-song. There was drums and bass and guitar involved, but there was also three keyboard stations, and there was usually more than one of those in use. At a few points, in fact, one member would even be using two of them, playing one keyboard, while reaching over to hit notes on another that was facing away from them.
Given all that, it's not surprising that there was a shifty sonic sensibility at play. The music was by no means formless, but think of it as sloshing around in a loose, baggy container rather than a constraining box. The vocals were textural and not particularly intelligible — even peaking harshly when they got loud. Easily diggable stuff. I was always more of an admirer than a fan of the Daymonths, but with that band's spastic edges replaced by a groovy trance, I think I'll be seeing more of Absolutely Free.
Listen to a song 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. This year, the name situation has been made more ludicrous with the addition of a top-level sponsor that has been smushed into the festival's name. I don't know what product they're selling, and frankly I don't care. I have no plans to acknowledge them by name and I suggest you do the same.