Tuesday, September 25th, 2007
Close To Paradise
Well I certainly wasn’t expecting THAT outcome at the Polaris Music Prize gala last night.
A year after reaching into left field to declare Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds the winner of the inaugural prize, the grand jury reached even farther into left field to name Montreal’s Patrick Watson and his album Close To Paradise as Polaris champion for 2007. I’m actually not in a position to comment on whether Watson is a deserving winner or not because he was one of just two finalists whose work I am completely unfamiliar with – his two-song performance to open up the night’s ceremony was the first I’d heard of him and from that, I have to say I wasn’t especially overwhelmed.
Actually none of the performances had the same eye-opening effect that Final Fantasy’s did last year when you couldn’t help but wish that the grand jury could have seen him play as that would have settled all discussion right then and there. Which isn’t to say they weren’t good – they were all decent and made a case for why their albums had been nominated – but weren’t revelatory. The Besnard Lakes were certainly the loudest act and Julie Doiron the most jubilant – she seemed absolutely thrilled to be playing with her Eric’s Trip bandmates again. The Joel Plaskett Emergency delivered a raucous set and Chad VanGaalen opted not to play a selection from his nominated Skelliconnection but instead to unveil new material, including one song that sounded like he was channeling Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Miracle Fortress, who I was rooting for, closed the show out with a set that was in some ways better than the last time I saw them back in June but in other ways, still not nearly as tight or polished as the other performers. They did, however, have the best songs. Hands down. My hands, anyway.
The host for this year was Grant Lawrence from CBC Radio 3 and he was a huge improvement from Jian Ghomeshi last year. Simultaneously more succinct and still funnier, he kept things moving well though Ghomeshi still turned up to introduce The Besnard Lakes in monumentally long-winded fashion. Dave Bookman from CFNY was also a return presenter from 2006 and again proved he has no shame by singing an introduction for Julie Doiron to the tune of “California Girls” (he did the same thing for The New Pornographers last year, also cringe-worthy). But on the whole the evening went quickly and smoothly and was entertaining, even from the cheap seats (read: balcony) where I was again relegated. The production values of the event were far superior as well, with a much nicer and fancier stage setup at The Phoenix and – I think – better hors d’oeurves. Though we only got one drink ticket instead of two this time. Boo.
But back to Patrick Watson. After getting back from the ceremony, I’ve listened to the album (conveniently streaming at Spinner.com this week – link below – though as far as I can tell it’s already been released in the US) and am still at a loss as to how it was decided that this record was better than the other ten. Not to say that it’s bad at all, especially if you like the idea of hearing Jeff Buckley fronting a jazzier Coldplay, but I sincerely believe the Feist record or Five Roses from Watson’s labelmates in Miracle Fortress are far superior. But hey, I wasn’t in the grand jury room, I was in the balcony gnarfing down cheese and this is how it played out so congratulations to Watson, who was excited about the win because a) it allowed him to trash talk the Besnard Lakes (affectionately, I assume) and b) pay off a $16,000 bill they’d apparently just gotten for wrecking a rental van. So very rock. What was interesting was that the jury reached a decision far sooner than I expected – some predicted a hung jury, if possible, since no one could read any of the jurors’ particular biases. I guess they were all digging on Patrick Watson.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Polaris as the 2007-2008 nomination period looks to have a lot of stellar releases that it’s going to be a challenge to have to sort out for my five picks, and not in the “I only own three qualifying albums” way that it’s been in the past. But that’s not till next May – let’s round up some other reactions to the win from Canadian Press (in which Pallett tackles the “they don’t need the money” elephant head on), Pitchfork, The Toronto Star and Drowned In Sound and I’ll add more response and reaction as the day creeps on and people shake off their after-party hangovers. Update: More from Stereogum, Radio Free Canuckistan (a fun, insider-y look at the event. Part two forthcoming), Zoilus, Chart, Macleans and Radio Free Canuckistan Pt 2. One of the grand jurors reports in to The Montreal Gazette.
Photos: 2007 Polaris Music Prize Gala @ The Phoenix – September 24, 2007
MP3: Patrick Watson – “Luscious Life”
MP3: Patrick Watson – “Giver”
MP3: The Besnard Lakes – “And You Lied To Me”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Flower Garden”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Graveyard”
MP3: Julie Doiron – “No More”
MP3: Miracle Fortress – “Have You Seen In Your Dreams”
Video: Patrick Watson – “Close To Paradise” (YouTube)
Video: The Besnard Lakes – “For Agent 13” (YouTube)
Video: The Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Fashionable People” (YouTube)
Video: Chad Van Gaalen – “Flower Gardens” (YouTube)
Video: Julie Doiron – “Me And My Friend” (MOV)
Video: Julie Doiron – “No More” (youTube)
Video: Julie Doiron – “Swan Pond” (MOV)
Stream: Patrick Watson / Close To Paradise
MySpace: Patrick Watson
MySpace: The Besnard Lakes
MySpace: The Joel Plaskett Emergency
MySpace: Chad VavGaalen
MySpace: Julie Doiron
Some Polaris-related odds and ends – Bootlog is sharing a Miracle Fortress performance in Kingston a couple weeks ago and Joel Plaskett will play a series of shows at the Horseshoe from December 10 through 13 to celebrate the venerable venue’s 60th anniversary. Each night he’ll be playing one of his albums in its entirety, except not Ashtray Rock as that will henceforth be known as the LOSING record and never be spoken of again.
And completely un-Polaris related, check out one of the songs from British Sea Power’s forthcoming Krackenhaus? EP, out digitally October 9 and in plastic November 20. It’s terrific.