Saturday, March 13th, 2010
Canadian Musicfest 2010 Day One
Diamond Rings, First Rate People and The Darcys at Canadian Musicfest
Frank YangOkay, so for the more intrepid festival-goers Thursday night would have been Canadian Musicfest night TWO, not one. But I think that with the amount of standing around on sticky barroom floors I’ve got coming up, I should be given a bye for choosing to begin my CMF at the traditional Thursday starting line rather than the present-day realistic Wednesday one, though that starting line was located at The Garrison, some ways away from the traditional CMW stomping grounds.
The event was the eye weekly showcase, and the draw one act whom I’d been meaning to see for the better part of six months and another whom I’d only discovered a week or so ago, but was finding more than a little bit intriguing. These were First Rate People, an act who in this era of online over-sharing had managed to maintain an air of mystery about them, offering nothing in way of image and a few tantalizing song samples that reveled in a sample-heavy, retro-pop, soul revue aesthetic. Live, however, there were no such airs about them. The five-piece all looked barely old enough to be in the bar legally, and rather than belie their young age, their set and sound reveled in it. Not in any juvenile or amateurish sense – there was clearly a lot of talent up there as well as instrument swapping – but in their giddy, “school’s out!” spirit and refreshing disregard for things such as musical genre. Reminiscent at their best of Saturday Looks Good To Me with more hip-hop than power-pop in their blood, they’ve still not fully reconciled their beats-friendly inclinations with their traditional band roots and their best hooks are still coming from the samples and not them, but when – not if – they get it together, they’ll be a potent crew.
I had missed countless opportunities to see Diamond Rings live since he emerged as a Pitchfork darling last Summer, so with only the breezy videos to go by, I was expecting John O’Regan’s glammy alter-ego to be a tongue-in-cheek bit of synth-poppery. And while the unicorn tapestry hanging off the front of his synth was a bit of fun, the performance was decidedly darker and more dramatic than any of that – the light-hearted “All Yr Songs” was an anomaly amongst the songs that will likely make up the full-length debut Special Affections, due out later this year, and second single “Wait & See” takes on an entirely different character when heard without the visuals. Also helping the intensity of the performance was O’Regan picking up the guitar for more than a few numbers and injecting some welcome D’Urbervilles-ish skronk. An impressive set, and it was good to see that the Bowie comparisons that get used in describing Diamond Rings go much further than just the Aladdin Sane-ish makeup; the style is obvious, but there’s plenty of substance as well.
I then took leave of The Garrison and hoofed (then streetcar-ed) it to the El Mocambo for the Audio Blood showcase, which had the good luck of a) featuring a band I wanted to see at the precise time I would be able to get there and b) being en route to my apartment. I had seen The Darcys at NXNE last year, but since that show they’d undergone some pretty fundamental lineup changes with the departure of frontman Kirby Best and they’ve since recorded a new record under the production auspices of The Dears’ Murray Lightburn. And while the positive-and-not-derivative Radiohead comparisons I made in June still hold, new singer Jason Couse’s voice does have a greater Yorke-ian influence than his predecessor; a fact that could be troubling if its used in the wrong (read: obvious) way. Musically, they still have superb arrangements and songcraft built on a bed of white noise and white knuckles, but they could stand to sublimate the angst in their delivery a bit. I suggest rolling it up into a little ball and swallowing it deep, down inside. That’s what I do.
The Varsity has an interview with The Darcys.