As SXSW wraps up, it’s time for the Panic Manual to turn our eyes and ears from Austin to Toronto. Canadian Music Week gets under way and runs from Wednesday to Sunday all over the city. CMW is an exciting time; it announces the arrival of spring and music festival season in Toronto. Whether that announcement is premature or not really depends on Mother Nature, and it looks like she will be cooperating this year. Also, the festival got pushed back a few weeks to give her a fighting chance.
There is a lot to see and hear: a film festival, a comedy festival, a conference, and of course, the music. With all that’s going on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so for tips on navigating the festival, check out last year’s CMW Survival Guide. The entire music schedule can be found here. While there aren’t a lot of big ticket names in this year’s line up, there certainly is something for everyone. From established artists like Joel Plaskett, to young up-and-comers like Zeus and Whale Tooth, there will be a mix of both familiar and new.
CMW is a great place for discovery. I certainly plan on hitting up some old favourites like Martha Wainwright and the aforementioned Plaskett and his Emergency band. I also look forward to seeing a bunch of newer artists like Jenn Grant, blues rockers CATL, and maybe even check out the retrospective screening of The Muppet Movie at the NFB.
Slacker Canadian Music runs March 21-25 all over Toronto.
Toronto – As some of you may know, fellow Panic Manualer Paul is our resident expert in all things metal and hard rock. Paul has been making an effort of late to broaden his musical horizons by covering jazz and funk shows. I commend him on his efforts. He has risen to the challenge and to this I say “a funkety funk.”
As the Panic Manual’s resident jazz writer, I’ve been tasked by Paul with the following challenge: “review me some hard punk rock music at Canadian Music Week.” To this I respond, “I am up to your challenge Paul!. I also have diverse and broad musical taste! I fear not this punk rock you speak of!” So marks my first hard rock experience since seeing Sum 41 play Ottawa Bluesfest 7 years ago. That experience has amply prepared me for more of the very same type of legitimate hard rock music.
Fast forward to late Saturday evening where I was dragged chose to go to the Comfort Zone to check out Japanese punk rockers the Zoobombs. Sporting a knit tie and a vest, I could tell immediately that I would fit right in. You see, my nefarious plans involved going to the Comfort Zone all along. I knew that this was the sort of all-black-clothes or hoodie wearing crowd that would look down on a silk tie. That’s why I chose a knit tie. I blended in like a mofo. Mark 1. Punk Music 0.
The Zoobombs are an energetic bunch of Japanese punk rockers. My earplugs were turned up to maximum warp and I could still feel the music shake me and my trusty Nikon. After snapping a few shots, I realized that the music was so loud that it was shaking my index finger at just the right tempo to simulate the “quickshot” feature of much more expensive cameras. Take that loud music. Mark 2. Punk Music 0.
It was at this point that I starting to feel like the music was trying to shake my precious brain goo out of its enclosure. A modest retreat was in order. At first Paul was wondering why I was standing behind instead of beside him. Also, I was actually hunching and cowering more than standing. It was at this point that Paul realized that I was expertly wielding him as a sound shield. There was a tremendous amount of sound energy assaulting ears that are more qualified for Chopin than Megadeath. Admittedly, that’s worth two points. Mark 2. Punk Music 2.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the energy the Zoobombs had to offer. For me it was just like trying to eat an entire watermelon while on E.
Toronto – In my books, it’s not truly a music festival in Toronto until I’ve been to either the Horseshoe or the El Mocambo. The only exception to this rule is the Toronto Jazz Festival. In which case it’s not truly a jazz festival until I’ve been inside that tent with the chandeliers at Nathan Phillips Square, or the Rex. With this in mind, I figured that the El Mo was a good place to start Saturday evening.
The first band on my agenda was These Electric Lives, a Toronto-based band that plays rock, alternative rock, and a brand new form of music I’m calling “indie rock”. The Lives are fronted by singer Chris Martin from Coldplay. At the very least he could have easily been Chris’ brother, or maybe his younger cousin. Their first tune was head-boppariffic, as I caught myself bopping my head almost immediately.
The best part for me was the contrast between the polished Coldplay-esque stage presence of the singer against the rough and tumble drummer. He reminded me of Animal from the Muppets. He looked rough around the edges and he played like he was rough around the edges. It was great. Just check out the lower left corner of the picture above to see what I mean. Although the band got off to a strong start, I felt the wind leave their sails pretty quickly. There was good indie rock moments in there. I just wish the momentum of the first song would have propelled them to an Animal-like craze similar to the Muppet Show theme song.
Next up was Vancouver-based Piper Davis. I don’t really know what to say about this band. The CMW site says “her songs represent a mixed bag of musical genres”. And how. Piper Davis herself danced in angular movements to what I’m told are “micro-sampled beats”. I can only guess that these are tiny beats that are kind of jarring and pierce your ears. I ran into fellow Panic Manualer Brian at the show. Thankfully for him, I had me an extra pair of earplugs.
“Thank you very much for these [earplugs]” – Panic Manualer Brian
Drink sales rose sharply during this set as people moved steadily away from the music and stumbly towards copious amounts of alcohol. Music is such an interesting thing; there’s an indescribable quality to so much of it. Take something and tweak it here and there and you get an amazing live show, or maybe a train wreck. I think there’s a lot to say about a musician’s stage presence, whether they’re truly into it, and the feedback between the artist and the crowd. Unfortunately this particular show seemed to lack all of that.
Toronto – Last Friday evening Mz. Chawles and The Wonderfuls played some sweet soul music at Czehoski’s to a densely packed crowd. The band is fronted by Tanika Charles, a Toronto-born but Edmonton-raised singer that has returned to the city to ply her trade. Toronto is happy with her return to the city; she brings with her both a considerable stage presence and an impressive voice.
This was my first time at Czehoski’s for live music, and it makes for an interesting venue. It’s a long and narrow room with the stage at the very back. Both sides of the aisle are straddled by tables for the restaurant folk, making the live music more of a side entree rather than the main course. This however, was Canadian Music Week, so it was all about the music and the drink. The upshot with such a tiny hall is that just a few dozen people can make the place feel cozy.
The Panic Manual is by and large a huge fan of soul revivalists. Although I just made that last sentence up, I can tell you this: I am a huge fan of soul revivalists. There was a lot of charisma and musicianship emanating from Ms. Charles. As superbly fun as this show was, I can’t help but wonder what a few extra years experience will do to Ms. Charles’ diva persona. There certainly seemed to be times when she was channelling soul queen Sharon Jones. I can’t wait to see what Ms. Charles will be like with a few more years worth of gravitas.
I don’t think the Pips would ever dare do this to Gladys Knight. As a matter of fact, I’m confident that every single Pip knew exactly which side of their bread was buttered.
If there was one minor slight about the set, it had nothing to do with Ms. Charles herself, but the backing band. As the set drew to a close with a candid song about money, they decided to surprise the singer by abruptly launching into Pink Floyd’s Money. It was apparent that Tanika had no clue about the pre-meditated prank. She was surprised, but made a valiant attempt to keep composure. She asked the crowd if they knew the lyrics and encouraged a sing-along. This was a jarring loss of momentum and an underwhelming way to end what was otherwise a fantastic set of music.
Any group with name that follows the format of “Bandleader and the Backups” is largely being powered by the sheer force, charisma, and presence of the lead singer. I don’t think the Pips would ever dare do this to Gladys Knight. As a matter of fact, I’m confident that every single Pip knew exactly which side of their bread was buttered. Surprising Tanika with a prank like that broke the magic spell that she had the audience firmly under. It demonstrated poor judgement. Sadly, the Wonderfuls were anything but, with the notable exception of soul sister twins Keisha and Leisha Cameron on backing vocals.
The good news is that as a starlet like Ms. Charles grows, she will be able to command the attention of the best, brightest, and most dedicated of backing bands. The afore mentioned Sharon Jones did it with the Dap-Kings and their talented bassist and band-leader Bosco Mann. I can see Ms. Charles doing the same in due time. Then things will really get wonderful.