Monday, March 15th, 2010
Canadian Musicfest 2010 Day Two
Think About Life, The Acorn, Plants & Animals and more at Canadian Musicfest
Frank YangConsidering that snow and slush are far more typical environmental hazards for Canadian Musicfest’s timing, complaining about rain that accompanied the unseasonable warmth the last couple days seems ungrateful. And yet, standing in line to get into Lee’s Palace in the freezing drizzle Friday night, I could only take solace in the fact that this would be my one and only stop for the evening. But I would certainly be having words with this “chromwaves” fellow whom festival literature said was presenting the show along with the Billions booking agency. I bet he’s a tool.
The short gap between doors and the first act meant that Montreal’s Winter Gloves were on stage before my shoes had dried, and if anyone had been hoping to be eased gently into the evening’s entertainment… not going to happen. Winter Gloves came out hard, fast and loud with synth-rock from their debut About A Girl and while the album had only rated an “alright” to my ears, the live experience was much more engaging and enjoyable and, consequently, has prompted me to revisit the record. And encourage SxSW-ers to swing by the Paper Bag Records showcase I’m co-presenting this week to check them out. March 17 at Speakeasy, they’re on at midnight. End plug.
Photos: Winter Gloves @ Lee’s Palace – March 12, 2010
MP3: Winter Gloves – “Let Me Drive”
MP3: Winter Gloves – “Someone Great”
MP3: Winter Gloves – “All Red”
Video: Winter Gloves – “Let Me Drive”
Video: Winter Gloves – “Piano 4 Hands”
If Winter Gloves took their synths to the rock end of the spectrum, sole Toronto act on the bill Russian Futurists steered theirs towards the pop. And while their stage presence paled in comparison to the act they followed – Matthew Adam Hart subscribes to the “stand there as still as possible” school of frontmanship – the band were clearly pleased to be able to bust out new material from their forthcoming album The Weight’s On The Wheels and their indelibly melodic tunes carried the set. A little more on-stage activity wouldn’t have been unappreciated, but what can you do.
Any of the next three bands could easily have been tapped as headliner for the night, but The Acorn arguably took the stage with the most anticipation, at least from me. I hadn’t seen them play since late 2008 and in the interim, they’d gone into hiding to write and record their new record No Ghost, which should be out around June. So while the occasion of their return was a happy one, it also became bittersweet when midway through their set, frontman Rolf Klausner announced that guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Howie Tsui would be leaving the band after their show in Kingston the next night to concentrate on his visual arts career. Anyone who’s seen the Acorn live knows how essential Tsui’s contributions are to their sound, so whomever they get to take his place has some mighty big shoes to fill; a fact reinforced with this show as the band showed off some of their new material while busting out old favourites as well. The new songs sound as though they’ve taken the sounds and lessons learned from the Central American-inflected Glory Hope Mountain and brought them back to the northern hemisphere, including the second drummer added for touring said record – those who came to the band via their early EPs would be (pleasantly) surprised at how potent a rhythmic machine The Acorn are today. And Klausener’s between-song banter has also gotten a lot better. Thankfully.
Photos: The Acorn @ Lee’s Palace – March 12, 2010
MP3: The Acorn – “The Flood, Pt 1”
MP3: The Acorn – “Crooked Legs” (live on XM)
MP3: The Acorn – “Blankets”
MP3: The Acorn – “Plates & Saucers”
MP3: The Acorn – “Darcy”
Video: The Acorn – “The Flood, Pt 1”
Video: The Acorn – “Crooked Legs”
The thing about having your name attached to a show is that it tends to imply an endorsement of every act on the bill. I had tried to get into Montreal’s Plants & Animals with their debut Parc Avenue, which so many people I know and respect seemed to love, but just couldn’t do it. There was a hippie/jam band vibe about it that I just couldn’t get behind, so that their performance on this evening quite nearly tore my face off was just a bit of a surprise. Their musical prowess has never been in doubt, but funneled through an immensely loud and sweaty 40-minute set of classic rock-styled, arena-sized jams… well, you would have to hate rock to not be impressed. And I do not hate rock. I can’t say that I’ll like their second record La La Land more than the first when it comes out on April 20 – what wows me on stage doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be as interesting coming from my speakers – but I’ll certainly be giving it more of a chance than I would have prior to Friday night. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Post-Plants & Animals, the room – which had been at capacity for the last few hours – began to clear out a bit. Reasonable, since many had probably been there since doors at 8:30 and subways were going to stop running before long. Reasonable, but unfortunate since leaving Lee’s then would have meant missing Think About Life, another band whom I’d done an almost 180 on since first hearing them. I had dismissed their self-titled debut as being too messy for my tastes, but after seeing them and the glorious dance-party explosion that is their live show in Summer 2008, I was more than happy to elevate them to “at least they’re buckets of fun live” status. Then last year’s Family proved that they were an outfit capable of capturing much of that live energy on record while further honing their songwriting into a more focused yet no less rocking disco-soul monster. In short, they appeared to have become the band that their fans had been insisting they were from the get-go.
After some technical delays, they took the stage looking a bit different from when I saw them last – guitarist/electronics-wrangler Graham Van Pelt and manic frontman Martin Cesar were still there, but drummer Matt Shane had been replaced and they had a new bassist in Caila Thompson-Hannant, whom I recognized from her stints in Miracle Fortress and Shapes & Sizes. Adopting a more conventional live band configuration would prove to be a wise move, though, as they sounded even better and more vital than they did the last time I saw them, Thompson-Hannat’s vocals in particular adding a welcome dimension to their sound. Energy-wise, they were as tremendous as before though the larger environs of Lee’s didn’t allow for quite the audience mosh action that Sneaky Dee’s did. Cesar did leap into the crowd towards the end of the set to spread some sweat around but at no point in the show did I fear for my life. Which should probably be considered a good thing, but I was still a bit disappointed – not in the show, the show was great, just in that I never felt compelled to run for cover.
Photos: Think About Life @ Lee’s Palace – March 12, 2010
MP3: Think About Life – “Nueva Nueva”
MP3: Think About Life – “Sweet Sixteen”
Video: Think About Life – “Havin’ My Baby”
Video: Think About Life – “Sweet Sixteen”
Video: Think About Life – “Paul Cries”
Apologies to The Uglysuit for not sticking around for their show-closing set. By 2AM, I was out of fumes to run on and had to hightail it for home. I promise that every effort will be made to see you this week in Austin.