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CMW Review: These Electric Lives, Piper Davis, Mar 12, El Mocambo

Posted on by Mark in Canadian Music Week, Concerts | Leave a comment

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.

CMW Review: Mz. Chawles and The Wonderfuls, Mar 11, Czehoski

Posted on by Mark in Canadian Music Week, Concerts | 2 Comments

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.

CMW Review: Steph Macpherson, The R.G. Morrison, Mar 10, Bread & Circus

Posted on by Mark in Canadian Music Week, Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto – You know I really like Bread & Circus. It’s a super laid back place in the heart of Kensington Market and it easily lends itself to intimate musical experiences. It’s been a full year since I’ve last frequented the joint, but I am now going to make an effort to get back there over the summer. While the drink selection isn’t huge, the prices are reasonable, and the staff is friendly.

Thursday evening began at the Circus with Steph Macpherson, a singer-songwriter based out of Vancouver. It was a foot-tapping experience. She played well-constructed folk rock. Everything seemed like it was in the right place. It was tastefully done. I believe I was bobbing my head and tapping my foot in the all the right places. While Steph has a very sweet voice, I wonder what a few extra years of experience on the road combined with a bit of risk-taking might do? I’d be curious to hear the result.

Steph Macpherson plays the Central, March 12, at midnight.

“[Introducing himself and his absentee band] We are The R.G. Morrison. I am R.G. Morrison.”

Next up was The R.G. Morrison. The first thing I noticed about R.G. Morrison was that he had a pronounced U.K. accent; he was decidedly not Canadian. As an aside, this year’s Canadian Music Week line-up seems to have the highest selection of non-Canadian music I’ve seen to date. I’m not sure if this is actual fact, but I expect CMW to focus mostly on Canadian talent, leaving the world-wide stuff to NXNE. Perhaps, there has been a conscious change in artistic direction of the festival? I will try and find this out and report back.

The second thing I noticed is that, while “The R.G. Morrison” sounds like a band name, and is in fact a full band, only front-man R.G. Morrison himself was on stage. He explained to us that his band had been caught up in American customs. Without getting into details, he explained that this show was going to be a solo one, and it would give him a chance to play some solo material that he doesn’t usually play live.

The third thing I noticed is that R.G. has a powerful and emotional voice. Once he got into the groove of the set, I was pulled into his music. It can be amazing what one talented musician can do with just a guitar and a voice. His guitar work was just a touch more complex that the standard singer-songwriter fare, making it a perfect accompaniment to his both nuanced and impressive set of pipes. This was an intimate musical affair and live music at its best.

I can’t pretend to know what the actual band would have sounded like, but I was happy enough seeing R.G. Morrison play an intimate solo act. It was a nice little slice of CMW.

CMW Review: Alcoholic Faith Mission, Ryan Warner and The Moonlight Ride, March 9, Rancho Relaxo

Posted on by Paul in Canadian Music Week, Concerts, Everything | 2 Comments

Toronto – And so it was that on the first night of Canadian Music Fest, I trudged out into some truly dismal weather to make my way to Rancho Relaxo to check out some bands, all the while hoping that it was worth getting up off the couch to see.  Luckily it was.

Ryan Warner and The Moonlight Ride were already playing as we made our way into the bar.  They offered up some decent, Tom Waits influenced folk rock that featured horn and accordion.  They had a couple sound issues, most notably during “Under the Floors,” a song they had apparently just written yesterday.  It was a good song, probably the best of their set, and it reminded me a bit of the band Karate, but they were forced to start it over when the song became overtaken by a massive amount of feedback.  The lesson here perhaps is to wait more than a day before performing a brand new song.

Alcoholic Faith Mission were up next and I have to say they were pretty impressive.  They had a lush, warm sound that included keening vocals, keyboards, and copious amounts of trombone (it was seemingly played through a pedal at one point.  Either that, or that guy can get some seriously sick sounds coming out of that thing naturally).  One of the highlights was “Sobriety Up And Left,” introduced by the singer through an apparently true story about him waking up spitting up blood.  Despite that gruesome image, it was a beautiful song.  The audience definitely left with a good impression.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a few people there that night check out one of their other shows this weekend.

Ryan Warner:

Alcoholic Faith Mission:

Alcoholic Faith Mission play The Dakota Friday, March 11 @ midnight and The El Mocambo Saturday, March 12 @ 8:00 pm.