Monday, May 2nd, 2011
When I Am New Again
Wildlife, The Darcys and Freedom Or Death at Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto
Frank YangI will be the first to admit I don’t do nearly as good a job of keeping track of worthy up and coming local and/or Canadian bands as I’d like, generally taking an “if they’re worth hearing I’ll hear them eventually” approach and deferring to great local and national sites with a homegrown focus like I Heart Music, The Take, Singing Lamb and Herohill to do the legwork and put worthy new Canuck talent on my radar. Showcasing said talent is the mandate of the Unsigned series which periodically puts on shows at the Steam Whistle brewery and checking out said talent was what I was doing there on Friday night along with a pretty packed roundhouse.
Leading things off were Freedom Or Death, who were marking the release of their debut mini-album Ego earlier in the week. The duo in the studio/quartet on stage craft what would best be described as a sort of synth-rock-soul amalgam, though not nearly as left field-sounding as that might imply. Most of their material is built around frontman Sway C in R&B croon mode overtop keyboard patches lifted from the ’80s and given a ’90s-ish production sheen, but its relative safeness is offset by the fact that a lot of their songs are instantly memorable and expertly crafted. It’s the sort of thing that if alt.rock radio or MuchMusic still held the cultural hegemony they once did, could become huge but as things stand today, would have to settle – for now at least – for impressing a roomful of punters in a brewhouse. Like their music, their performance was a bit slick and calculated but certainly effective; those watching might well have walked away thinking they’d seen one of the city’s next big things and who knows, they might be right.
Goodness knows that’s a title that’s been hanging around The Darcys for years now, and clearly no guarantee of anything. The circumstances around their delayed ascent to greatness were pretty well-documented back in March by The Toronto Star – but with the self-titled sophomore effort that’s really more of a debut hopefully finally ready to see the light of day after being stalled for more than a year, the band may finally be ready to move forwards. For the as yet unacquainted, my best description of The Darcys would a balance of prog and pop somewhere between the tension of mid-era Radiohead and the grand presentation of early Elbow, though I don’t think it’s any slight to add the caveat that they’re not as brilliant as either, at least not right now if ever, but it does give a sense of where they’re pointed creatively as well as their potential. And so while there’s still no definite timetable for when their recorded selves will finally be let loose, though it seems inconceivable that no label in the city will have the good sense to put it out before the year is out, The Darcys are making do venting their energies onstage.
As with the last couple times I’d seen them live, their show was an impressive exercise in musicianship and intensity though as I’ve mentioned in the past – and as also applies to their record – a couple of less-clenched songs would really help the dynamics of the experience. But considering they’ve been sitting on this record and these songs far longer than any band ever should, who knows where they’re actually at right now with respect to their songwriting. And that’s perhaps the biggest reason I hope they get the album out soon; not just so that the rest of the world can be let in on what Toronto’s known for so long, but so that the band can finally get on with it.
Though The Darcys were top billed on the show posters, they weren’t the closing act – that honour went to Wildlife, whose acquaintance I’d made only a day or two earlier via a copy of their debut album Strike Hard, Young Diamond which conveniently showed up in my mailbox. And the collection of uptempo rock, faintly Wolf Parade-ish without all the quirkiness and striking a good balance between heart-on-sleeve sensitivity and beer-in-hand boisterousness, made a good impression so though the option of heading home early was on the table, I opted to stick around. That the aforementioned balance wouldn’t be carried over to the stage was made clear pretty early on as frontman Dean Povinsky declared that the evening’s spirit animal would be Andrew WK and the theme would be partying. They did the party thing well, however, and while it didn’t really hold my attention for the duration, it did energize the crowd with the good time vibes. And props for the solid encore of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”.
Photos: Wildlife, The Darcys, Freedom Or Death @ Steam Whistle Brewing – April 29, 2011
MP3: Wildlife – “Stand In The Water”
MP3: The Darcys – “The House Built Around Your Voice”
MP3: Freedom Or Death – “This Crowded Room”
Video: Freedom Or Death – “This Crowded Room”
Heartbeat Hotel, who are one of my personal picks for worthy unsigned bands in the city – as in worthy of being signed, not that they should remain without a label – have released a new video from last year’s free and excellent and free album Fetus Dreams.
Nashville’s Tristen will be in Toronto on July 16 for a show at the Drake in support of her debut album Charlatans At The Gate; a 7″ worth of MP3s is available at their website in exchange for an email.
Video: Tristen – “Baby Drugs”
Having just announced that they’ll be reissuing their 2004 EP Cherry Tree in limited edition on June 28, The National are giving away an MP3 of “About Today” from said release at their Bandcamp in exchange for an email. Also available to grab is the song they contributed to the soundtrack of Portal 2, which I’m led to understand is a video game of some kind.
The Dallas Observer and Exclaim talk to Will Sheff of Okkervil River, whose new record I Am Very Far comes out next Tuesday, May 10 but is streaming in whole right now at Exclaim. They play The Phoenix on June 10.
Stream: Okkervil River / I Am Very Far