So, yeah, I bellyache a bit about the overall quality of this festival, but it's nearly impossible to concentrate this many bands in one place and not have some goodness. I went through the festival listings and selected bands that — with just a couple exceptions — I have seen before, and can testify to their entertainment value as live performers. Most of these recommendations come with a live recording from my archive, so you can get some idea of what to expect from them on stage. For more audio previews, you can always drop by showgopher, which has a handy grid and streaming audio for nearly all artists.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Jessica Stuart Few (Courthouse / 9:00 p.m.)
There's far from a full slate on the festival's putative opening night, so no one will question your decision to stay home/head elsewhere. If you did want to check something out, The Jessica Stuart Few are playing in the middle of a jazz showcase. Their sopisticated arrangements will fit in fine in that environment, but don't fence them in — there's going to be a lot more going on in the songs from their just-released Two Sides To Every Story.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
DIANA (Mod Club / 9:00 p.m.)
Slim pickings on Wednesday as well. Best bet might be the Mod Club, with the Scottish electropop buzz band du jour. But more impressive are openers DIANA, whose '80's-hued shimmering avant soft-rock has quickly become a phenom. Local fave Carmen Elle (also of the excellent Army Girls) is backed up by a band including some remnants of Everything All The Time (Kieran Adams, Joseph Shabason).
Listen! DIANA - Perpetual Surrender
Leif Vollebekk (Rivoli / midnight)
Vollebekk returns with a new album entitled North Americana, finishing off some of the songs he's been previewing live for a while now. There'll be an even better non-CMW shot at seeing him on Thursday, when he plays the Holy Oak Café at Bernice's spring equinox show.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Danielle Duval (Paintbox Bistro / 10:40 p.m.)
Duval could be your typical singer-songwriter type, but a powerhouse band behind her elevates her music to an exciting rollercoaster ride. (also Saturday at El Mocambo (Upstairs), 1:00 a.m.)
Listen! Danielle Duval - Ambulance
PS I Love You (The Great Hall / 11:00 p.m.)
In a festival-set-sized chunk, Paul Saulnier's guitar heroics always feel like a shot of adrenaline. Real rock for the death dreams set.
Listen! PS I Love You - Don't Go
X-Ray Eyeballs (Silver Dollar / midnight)
One of only two bands on this list that I have not seen perform, I'm confident in recommending them for two reasons: 1) they arose out of the ashes of surf/reverbists Golden Triangle, and 2) they have been hand-picked by Dan Burke as his now-traditional triple-headliner at his festival-within-the-festival NeXT. Simply put, you probably have to go see them on one of their nights — and if your festival options are ever failing you, the Silver Dollar should be your safety pick, cuz you know there's probably gonna be something good on stage. (also Friday at Silver Dollar, 1:00 a.m. and Saturday at Silver Dollar, midnight)
Friday, March 22, 2013
Let's Build Machines / The Wilderness of Manitoba (Revival / 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.)
A double-shot of Will Whitwham, with his textured "solo" project taking the stage a couple hours before Wilderness of Manitoba. The latter has been transforming a bit since the launch of their Island of Echoes album, with some lineup changes to make them a road-ready unit, but I presume the essence of their latest sound — folk harmonies with some new-wave splices to their rootsy grounding — is still intact.
Maica Mia (Silver Dollar / 9:00 p.m.)
When I saw 'em last year, I noted: "It's no mistake that this Montréal duo's new album is called Sparcity Blues — they make Mazzy Star sound like Motörhead." Maybe my #1 sleeper pick of the whole festival.
Listen! Maica Mia - Jonny-o
Persian Rugs (Rancho Relaxo / 10:00 p.m.)
This is your cardigan-clad antidote to short-attention-span buzz-band-itis. Persian Rug's C86-informed rock might go down like Cotton Candy, but the taste is guaranteed to linger.
Listen! Persian Rugs - Cotton Candy
Digits (Wrongbar / 10:30 p.m.)
Berlin-via-Toronto's Alt Altman creates DOR that's perfectly acceptable to the rockist crowd. His DIY equipment sometimes means that things can — and will — go wrong, but it also keeps his performances strictly in the moment. Add to that some well-written pop tunes, and Digits remains a superior electro-pop live performer.
Listen! Digits - Because It's Wrong
The Besnard Lakes (Lee's Palace / 12:30 a.m.)
If your idea of rock'n'roll includes bombast, fog machines, volume and guitar solos, this is where you want to be.
Mac Demarco (Sneaky Dee's / 1:00 a.m.)
Demarco's onstage persona is still somewhat sophomoric, but the craftsmanship of his slightly-bent guitar pop shows there's some sophistication behind that. (also Saturday, Parts & Labour, 1:30 a.m.)
The BB Guns (Silver Dollar / 2:00 a.m.)
This self-proclaimed "girl-group garage" gang radiates kick-ass energy on stage, but also has a set filled with satisfying pop songs.
Listen! The BB Guns - Dear Abby
Legato Vipers (Supermarket / 2:00 a.m.)
You might not know the members of Legato Vipers by name, but this is a crew of some of the best players in the Guelph/Toronto axis. You might recognize 'em if you've seen, say, Del Bel, Bry Webb, Skeletones Four or Biblical lately — and this instant party is what happens when such crafty dudes turn their focus to surf-rock.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Giant Hand (Cameron House - Backroom / 7:00 p.m.)
Returning to live performance after some time away, it's possible that Kirk Ramsay will bring some new songs about hope and optimism in this world. But were I given to bet, I'd put my money down that you're more likely to hear about demons, both literal and metaphorical.
Listen! Giant Hand - unknown
Beams (Silver Dollar / 9:00 p.m.)
Yeah, there's a banjo, and yeah, you might hear a murder ballad or similar old-timey number during their set — but don't mistake Beams for some sort of grim revivalist roots band. This rambunctious crew is a party, funeral and wake all rolled up in one package. With their debut album on the way, this is a boxcar you want to climb on now.
Listen! Beams - How Wonderful
Castle If & Cell Memory (Comfort Zone / 10:00 p.m.)
One of the most cryptic and intriguing bands in the city right now, Cell Memory brings sheer motorik drone, the songs filled with tension from holding still as much as possible while racing along nowhere Faust. Insistent synth patterns that burble behind floating clouds of guitar with Jess Forrest's vocals buried underneath it all, half-comprehensible phrases rendered more mysterious for being delivered in German. This is just one standout in a Silent Shout-curated night in Comfort Zone, which is well worth heading out for. (also: guitarist Cell Memory brings his solo material to The Garrison on Sunday, 6:30 p.m.)
Lioness (Lee's Palace / 11:00 p.m.)
Death Disco as fierce as the animal they're named after, there's a simmering sense of anxiety at play here that you'll only notice once you stop dancing.
Listen! Lioness - Krokodil Tears
Cousins (Parts & Labour / 12:30 a.m.)
This stripped-down Halifax unit — usually a duo — still raises a ruckus. Classic rock as filtered through a clattering garage jam. (also playing, somewhat weirdly, an hour later at Rivoli)
Listen! Cousins - Die
Jesuslesfilles (Silver Dollar / 1:00 a.m.)
Garage-rock party, francophone style, la-la-la-la.
Listen! Jesuslesfilles - unknown
B-17 (Silver Dollar / 2:00 a.m.)
These nocturnal denizens hit the streets once respectable society has gone to bed and serve up a reminder of that every bad trip can be a road to good times.
Listen! B-17 - Another Nocturnal Day
Biblical (Cherry Cola's / 2:00 a.m.)
Splitting the difference between cough syrup and trucker-grade speed, Biblical bring a bad-news boogaloo with just the right evil late-night lurch.
Listen! Biblical - Nickle and Dime
Sunday, March 24, 2014
Revolvers (Annex Live / 11:00 p.m.)
Revolvers have moved beyond their Apocalypse Surfin' to a more confident, spacious psychedelic palette. With a new album in the can, expect to hear plenty of fresh material at this set.
Listen! Revolvers - unknown
Deep Space Cowboys (Annex Live / 11:00 p.m.)
An offshoot of the shockingly young/shockingly proficient Auras collective, this brings some hints of shoegaze along with solid hits of psychedelia.
The Mark Inside (Horseshoe Tavern / midnight)
The tough and uncompromising glare tells you that they've been hurt before — then the band kicks in and suddenly you realize there's a chainsaw being thrust right at your heart. Bourbon, regret and volume.
Emma McKenna (The Garrison / 7:15 p.m.)
The Sunday night best-bet is probably this early-evening U-Haul showcase at The Garrison, with a quartet of intriguing acts. Most notable is the return of the talented Emma McKenna, who was seen as being poised for a big breakthrough a few years ago before easing away from the T.O. scene.
Listen! Emma McKenna - unknown
* 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.