Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Canadian Musicfest Day Three
The Week That Was, Library Voices, We See Lights and more at Canadian Musicfest
Frank YangSo yes, I sort of wimped out on the first couple days of Canadian Musicfest, but like to think I made up for it with Saturday, hitting up something from the evening’s start to the very end although I did skip out on a couple of very attractive pre- and post-showcase events. But anyways.
Scottish septet We See Lights were making the most of their visit to Canada, playing three shows in the week – this one at Bread & Circus in Kensington being the last – though from what I’d heard from others, they weren’t what you’d call the best-attended performances. And that’s a shame because they have a lot to recommend and really, an overabundance of talent. Boasting four more than capable lead singers, they crafted lush and beautifully open-hearted alt.country-pop whose sentimentality and earnestness was extra endearing given the youthfulness of the band – like a teenager absolutely convinced that they’re the first ones to have ever had their heart broken. They’re like the melancholic, mirror universe version of Los Campesinos! and by god they deserved to have people hear them. Dear We See Lights, please don’t hold our city’s indifference against us – please visit again.
After the Scots cleared out all their gear, Swedish singer-songwriter Sofia Talvik took the stage with her decidedly more stripped-down band, made up of one cellist, one percussionist and one fellow tapping out synth notes on an iPhone. The spare but thoughtful accouterments worked well at accenting Talvik’s fairly straightforward singer-songwriter fare, which was a bit disappointing in that it didn’t seem to exhibit the sort of sunny exterior/dark subtext that a lot of Swedish acts seem to imbue their work with. I thought I got whiffs of that on her latest album Jonestown, but she also didn’t play some of my favourite tracks from that record so perhaps she was just smoothing out the set list for the audience. Either way, a lovely voice and a lovely girl – hard to complain too much about that.
At this point the plan was to again hoof it up to the Tranzac for The Morning After Girls but after seeing two streetcars zip by while walking to the stop, the transit line seemed to dry up and there was nothing else in sight. At this point it was obvious that I’d be 10-15 minutes late for their set at best and I bailed – just as well, too, as I’ve heard that their set was cut short due to technical difficulties.
Instead, plan B became the El Mocambo and Regina’s Library Voices and goodness, all consolation prizes should be so satisfying. I should say that at this point, I’m utterly skeptical about bands whose rosters could also be fielded as a baseball team, but Library Voices – nine members strong – won me over. Yes they indulged in the same sort of antics other big bands do – instrument swapping, raucous on-stage behaviour, general shenanigans – but they did it so well and so infectiously, that my cynicism was melted away within a couple songs. And in more quantitative terms, they may be a big-ass band but their sound is surprisingly focused and the songs are grand and hooky. I’m not sure I could subsist on a diet of what they’re serving, but for one musical meal, at least, it was tasty.
This was only halfway through the night? Egads. When discussing my CMF schedule with someone, don’t remember who, mention of The Assistants reminded said unknown person that he’d seen them at a Jesus & Mary Chain tribute night once upon a time, whereas my only live experience with them was a few years ago at a shoegaze tribute night. The point of this being that The Assistants really don’t sound anything like shoegaze, so their presence at these shows and ensuing mental associations is erroneous to say the least. What they do sound like, as their set at Neutral confirmed, is good to great ’80s-inflected jangle-pop. A little Go-Betweens and New Order for the hip influences, a dash of Tom Petty and Dire Straits for the not-so-hip though, for the record, I like Tom Petty and Dire Straits and make these comparisons flatteringly. They play next April 11 at the Mod Club.
I’d originally planned to wrap the night at this point, but I still hadn’t seen the band I had circled before this whole week began, and since they were on at 1 it I had some time to kill – back to Bread & Circus. On stage were Abbey, hailing from Pembrooke, outside Ottawa, and notable for being the new project of Jordan Zadarozny, ex of Blinker The Star, who were almost the next big thing for a moment in the ’90s. And that brief shining moment definitely comes across in the music, which is big, downstroke-heavy guitar rock with just enough pop in it to not be rawk. Not offensive, but the most memorable thing about their set was the band blowing a fuse a couple songs in.
And then, finally, it was around the block to the El Mocambo for The Week That Was – an appropriately-named act to finish things off, I think. I’ll tell myself that everyone who wanted to see them had done so Thursday night at the Gladstone because the turnout for this show, hastily scheduled last week after they were removed from the Ting Tings bill, was pretty meagre. The Week That Was, however, are pros and didn’t let something like that dissuade them from putting on a performance that was worth the wait, somehow managing to recreate the breadth and impact of their densely prog-pop self-titled debut with only four players, even though the record was recorded with upwards of ten members. Though not exactly overflowing with stage presence – frontman Peter Brewis spent kept his eyes shut most of the time – the playing was tight and impactful. With Brewis returning to concentrate on Field Music after this North American tour is done, it was possibly the last time these songs would be aired so it’s good that they were done justice.
Photos: The Week That Was @ The El Mocambo – March 14, 2009
MP3: The Week That Was – “Scratch The Surface”
MP3: The Week That Was – “Learn To Learn”
Video: The Week That Was – “Scratch The Surface”
Video: The Week That Was – “Learn To Learn”
And here’s a smattering of non-CMF/SxSW stuff to hopefully appease those who have no interest in either.
Swedish rockers The Sounds have a date at the Mod Club on April 28. Their new album is Crossing The Rubicon and due out May 26.
And one to file under “didn’t see that coming” – Charlotte Hatherley has joined Bat For Lashes. She will be guitarist in Natasha Khan’s touring band through the Fall while they promote Two Suns, out April 6. So the good news is that Ms Hatherley will finally be coming to North America on tour, the bad news is she’s not doing any of her own songs. The more good news is she’s still going to be playing some great songs. The more bad news is this means the release of her next solo record Cinnabar City has been pushed back from the Spring to September. The even more good news is that it looks like the record will get a North American release and that proper touring of her own will follow. Oh hell, just read her MySpace blog for details. And be at the Mod Club on April 25 to welcome Charlotte – and Bat For Lashes – to Toronto.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a plane to catch.