Monday, March 16th, 2009
Canadian Musicfest Day One and Two
6 Day Riot, An Horse and more at Canadian Musicfest
Frank YangYou know what they say about the best laid plans, right? Well I should have known after assembling my complete itinerary for Canadian Musicfest last week (I’ve opted to not be difficult and just accept the new branding), it would get – if not thrown out the window then at least shaken up significantly.
Thursday night started as intended, at the Silver Dollar to see Ketch Harbour Wolves, but I’m sad to report that their live show failed to impress the way their recorded output has. Whereas on tape they manage to channel their dramatic impulses in a way that made for compelling songs, on stage it manifests itself in rather dubious stage moves and general melodramatic hamminess. I’m sorry but there’s no place for dramatic arm motions, air grabs or pointing at the audience. There’s just not. Their actual musical performance was quite good, but I couldn’t get past the presentation.
There was no disappointment, thankfully, for the return to these shores of London’s 6 Day Riot, who did dazzle at NxNE last year. With a new album in the can and set for a June release, the band mixed in a batch of new songs with the familiar. For the unfamiliar, imagine a heady brew of folk and pop made with tom-heavy rhythms, klezmer horn lines and Tamara Schlesinger’s strong and sweet vocals. It was heartening to see that a healthy audience had gathered to see them and though they stayed a typically Torontonian distance back from the stage, they seemed to be won over. And to me, even without the thrill of discovery that came with their show last year, it was still just loveliness.
It was at this point I was supposed to dash out and hop in a cab to the Gladstone to catch The Week That Was, but the fact that they’d had a 1AM Saturday show added to the sched and I was just feeling lazy kept me at Rancho a bit longer. And it was also an opportunity to see Megan Hamilton & The Volunteer Canola, whom I’d been meaning to see since first catching her open for My Morning Jacket way back in 2005. What can I say, I’m slow about stuff sometimes. And in the interim, her sound has evolved from a plaintive, high lonesome country-folkiness to a more electrified sound that almost borders on bar-rock boogie at points but manages to stay distinctive thanks to Hamilton’s just slightly off-kilter vocals. Her new album See Your Midnight Breath in the Shipyard is out April 7 and has a slew of shows in the city and surrounding regions in the next few months – check out her MySpace for specifics.
And that was it for day one. Anything else that had my interest was simply too out of the way for someone who had to work the next morning so I called it at three and headed home. And that brevity is why I’m also diving right into Friday night with this post. A night which, once again, began at the Silver Dollar.
The draw was Montreal’s Little Scream, whom I saw in January supporting Land Of Talk. And while she still has no internet presence to speak of – Google led me back to my own review – she hasn’t been idle in the intervening months, having traded in her acoustic guitar for an electric. And though she had already been amplifying and distorting the acoustic, the shift to a solidbody instrument did seem to give her a more visceral sonic presence – maybe it was the knowledge that she could beat on it and not worry about damage. And still, I can’t figure out what I find so compelling about this performer – she seems simultaneously distracted and focused, folkish and pure rock. Maybe once she gets some samples online someone can tell me what I’m hearing. Until then, I guess I’ll just keep seeing her live and trying to figure it out for myself.
From there, it was time for what would be my only foray from the Spadina-College corridor the entire weekend, to see An Horse at the Tranzac. The Australian duo had just appeared on Letterman a few nights earlier and it was tough to say if that had translated into extra interest in their showcase – I think it’s safe to say that the wide-eyed front row, decked out in An Horse t-shirts and clutching items for autographs, had had this date circled on their calendars for a while regardless. Playing songs from their debut Rearrange Beds, getting a North American release tomorrow, the duo were nothing short of impressive. Though their formula is as simple as it gets – guitar and drums and not even any soloing – and executed just as simply with dry, barre chord guitar work and straight-ahead, driving beats. But the songs are terrific – compact and hook-laden, occupying that space at the edge of anxiety yet not becoming angst and delivered in Cooper’s charmingly thick accent, a winning combination. And full props to the pair for not losing momentum when Cooper’s mic attempted to electrocute her early on in the show. An Horse will be back in town April 21 for a show at the Horseshoe with The Appleseed Cast. Attendance recommended.
And here, again, is where I went off-schedule. I had intended to hop on the streetcar back to the Silver Dollar for The Darling DeMaes but Mike from For The Records convinced me to accompany him down the street to Central for French act Angil & Hiddentracks, about whom I knew nothing but hey – isn’t that part of the point of festivals like this? And if nothing else, they take the prize for most confounding act of the festival (from my limited sampling). Their ethos seems to be as willfully eclectic and lyrically absurd as possible, mashing together rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop, whatever, with a distinct Mark E Smith-ish style into something that, if nothing else, was certainly distinct. A few of their songs appealed but unsurprisingly, they were the more conventional compositions and made me suspect I was missing the point.
At that point, I called it a night. That’s right, two days, six acts. Hardly a marathon, I know. I did better on Saturday by a fair margin, but I’ll get into that tomorrow.