A friend sent me a message after seeing The Blancos on Wednesday night. All she said was “Silliest/worst band ever.” That’s enough of an endorsement for me and so, after seeing that the band was playing Handlebar the next night, I was there. I have to say I agree with her assessment, although I did actually sort of enjoy these guys in all their horribleness. And I’ve got to say they’ve got a unique sound. They’ve certainly got the market cornered in … whatever it is they do. The best way to describe it is being somewhat like the singer from Kings Of Leon if he dropped the band and teamed up with a DJ.
The real magic of a Blancos set comes in the stage banter though. Here are just a few samples of the words of wisdom offered up by the duo during their set: ”How many people up in here like to smoke weed?” “This song’s called ‘Out of my Mind’ … ’cause we out of our minds!” “I’ve got a day and a half left here. I’m gonna have me a good time. Can I have an amen?” “We have an EP out on Soundcloud … smoke weed to it, fuck your girl to it, whatever.” And of course, “Bitch, I’m in Canada!” There was also a song about turning 21, “getting drunk and starting fights” and the occasional wanky guitar solo peppered into their set. They ended things off with a plug for their show the following night: “Tomorrow we’ll be at the Bovine Sex Club. I don’t know if they have sex there but it’s in the name.” After some guy in the crowd shouted out that they have Jäger on tap there, the singer responded, ”That’s baller.”
This has got to be satire, right? These dudes can’t possibly be serious, can they? Except I think they are and really, that’s what makes it great. These guys are like the Rob Ford of music – utterly terrible, yet somehow thinking they’re awesome. So yes, silliest/worst band ever, but still somehow compelling to watch.
These days, it’s practically standard operating procedure for members of Toronto indie bands to have one or more side projects on the go. In keeping with this, The Silver Dollar played host to two acts on the third night of CMW which featured members of other bands who have been making a bit of a name for themselves in the scene – Strands (featuring Jasmyn Burke of Weaves) and Praises (featuring Jesse Crow of Beliefs).
“This is a very minimal set. I am Strands … of the Weaves.” said Burke by way of introduction as she took to the stage. It was indeed minimal, just Burke and a sampler. The show started late, which was curious seeing as how I saw Burke soundchecking everything about 20 minutes before she went onstage, but The Silver Dollar has been known to run behind schedule at these club level festivals before, so maybe that was by design. Regardless, when Strands did get started, all was pretty much forgiven. She’s got an interesting sound, based mostly around looped vocal samples and minimalist beats and she made up for the lack of a band with some endearingly goofy dance moves onstage that mostly consisted of her shuffling back and forth. She ended things off with a reworked version of a Weaves song. Never having seen Weaves before, it felt a bit odd to be checking out the solo side project first, but it certainly got me interested in checking out the full band sometime soon.
Following Weaves was Praises, who offered up some poppy, shoegazey tunes. While their original tunes sounded great, the moment that stood out for me was their cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which managed to sound both dirgelike and uplifting at the same time. Definitely one of the highlights of the week.
Immediately before Praises and Weaves, I managed to see Buddy McNeil and the Magic Mirrors, a garage rock band from Montreal who were playing the 8:00 slot at Rancho Relaxo. From past experience, I know that this often means playing to a sparse crowd, yet the Magic Mirrors played to a small but decent sized audience and impressed with some fun, straight up rock n’ roll that hearkened back to the sounds of the 1960s. While McNeil and his soulful shout most often took the lead, it’s worth noting that all five members had a mic and each contributed vocals. Near the end of their set, the drummer said to the crowd, “It’s not too early to dance,” and while no one really got out there and busted a move, there was certainly a little bit of head bobbing and foot tapping at the very least. Good times.
Another year, another Canadian Music Week. Another chance to wander around the city seeing bands. I will admit, however, that there wasn’t a whole lot that jumped out at me in this year’s lineup. And with the handful of bands I was looking forward to seeing playing later in the week, my first night out was devoted to pure discovery. As is to be expected at these sort of things, there were some hits, but also some misses.
I started my evening off with a fantastic instore set by Angel Olsen at Sonic Boom … but CMW had nothing to do with that so we will speak no more of it. From there I moved on to Central to check out The Gold Coast’s Lyon Apprentice. I figure if a band comes all the way from Australia just to play a set at a small bar behind Honest Ed’s, they deserve some kind of an audience. The band’s CMW bio described them as similar to Local Natives, Daughter, and Bon Iver, but truth be told, they’re more like the Australian answer to City and Colour. That’s not really a dig at them … well, not entirely, anyways. The band were good at what they do, had good charisma onstage, and there’s certainly a market for this sort of stuff, but like Dallas Green’s project, there was a bit of a blandness about it. Pleasant sounding, but not overly memorable.
Next on the agenda was the Wavelength/M For Montreal showcase at The Garrison. The theme for the evening was bands whose names start with “M,” which is as good a theme as any I suppose. Starting things off were space rock/krautrock band Moonwood. Formerly the solo project of Arachnidiscs‘ Jakob Rehlinger, the project has morphed into a full band devoted to bringing the Hawkwind-esque jams. Their set consisted of two songs, which for tonight at least, were entitled “Oliva Chow For Mayor” and “Rob Ford Not For Mayor.” A fully satisfying set. For further reading (and a few laughs), the band has complied further reviews of their set from various media sources with their own commentary added.
Following that was Mannerisms, a local band that are proudly flying the jazz fusion flag. As they started their set, I noted the presence of an interesting looking bass onstage known as “The Rail.” One look at that and you know that something proggy is coming your way. Sadly, their keyboard player was not wearing a cape and so a full on prog odyssey was not in the cards for this evening. In fact, the band, while definitely showing off their chops, were somewhat restrained. They weren’t of the “all solos all the time” school of thought, rather focusing on keeping a certain vibe going.
If you are going to attend a city wide music festival, it is imperative that you follow these simple rules to ensure success. See the band you’ve just discovered and have fallen in love with, it will be one of the best shows of the year so far. See bands you’ve never ever heard of before that you chose randomly because timing or venue proximity worked. Stay hydrated, lube up that bicycle if weather is suitable and show hop until your hearts content.
I could only make it out for shows on Saturday so I tried to squeeze in as many as I could. Nothing except for random shitty pop punk band at Mod Club let me down.
First stop – The Drake Hotel to see River Tiber and Immanu El
River Tiber was a nice mellow kick off to a night I was barely hanging on to, due to a blasted hangover from the day prior. R&B tones mixed with a jazzy feel, giving off a “How to Dress Well” vibe, the lead singer of River Tiber has got some nice singing chops. Playing to a crowd of maybe 20 people (it was only 8pm after all), River Tiber is a local Toronto band, started a few years ago by Tommy Paxton-Beesley. Started in his basement, he recorded and produced every song, and later collaborated with musicians to create a full album and live show from it. Their second album Synapses came out in January, and if you like electronic indie tinged with R&B and jazz, I highly suggest checking these guys out.
Immanu El – The Drake Hotel
A Swedish band that has made its mark in Europe.They have toured extensively and released three albums, it’s surprising they’ve stayed off of Canadian radar for so long, but this is what CMW is for. An Earthy band that invokes feelings of being adrift at sea. Their music is grand and would be smartly used as a film score. The band collaborated with other artists and built a replica of an 1800′s ship that they set sail and filmed. The footage of beautiful open water, mountains, landscapes, sunsets, is their film, and their music is the soundtrack. It fits beautifully and you get lost in the music, creating a haze in your mind as you are getting lost at sea on the projection screen.
Pop Punk band at Mod Club
I don’t know who they are. I met up with friends briefly, the band was from Toronto, I did not care for them, but many large men did and so did the guys doing push-ups for Jager shots … I left hastily after.
Lioness at Lee’s Palace
I haven’t seen Lioness in six years. Formed by previous band members of Controller. Controller (RIP) bassist Ronnie Morris, singer Vanessa Fischer and drummer Jeff Scheven have been around since 2007. In 2007 I saw them play a smoke filled loft party that turned into a hot sweaty dance mess, needless to say it was hard to breathe, but I was satisfied. Six years later, here they are, still going strong. Fischer’s vocals are like a punch to the throat, her wild ensembles add a 70′s glam rock vibe to it all. Morris’ bass wasn’t playing out of the main speakers, just from the amp, and cut out from time to time, but even with technical difficulties, it did not faze the crowd which filled up fast on the floor at Lee’s. By this time, I was lost in the music, my feet unable to stop moving, my formerly blasting hangover nothing but a mere memory. This was all just the story to the climax though with…
The pseudo lovechild of Souxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, Savages are a four piece all female group from London UK. I always thought, if I could time travel I would love to go to late 70′s post-punk era UK, when the shows you were at were small, filled with angry youth that were looking for an escape. Along came bands like Joy Division, The Fall, and later on New Order. Bands where, when you saw them, you knew you were seeing something special, and that later on in life, those shows would resonate with you, change you and when you told someone “I saw that band at this small club” they would look at you in awe because you had been a part of the beginning of their story. This is how I and maybe others felt seeing Savages. They entered to ominous ambient tones, no light on the stage save a single spotlight. The lead singer Jehny Beth came out like she was looking for a fight, literally, I had seen her punching air in the greenroom above. Their is a subtleness to this band. They’re not flashy, they ooze stage presence without being showy. They come onstage with the understanding that they are there to share something with you. Bassist Ayse Hassan plays with her eyes closed the entire time. Jehny scared me a bit, but in a really good way. The crowd was moshing by the end of it. Guitarist Gemma Thompson played hard and fast, the world shut out, just her and the guitar. After this show, I had to call it a night. I love Suuns, but this was the apex. I can’t wait to see them again.