CMW Indie Awards
Now in its 30th year, Canadian Music Week features over 80 bands across 60 venues in five nights, along with film screenings, a comedy festival, and a final awards ceremony. Caught in between SXSW and NXNE, it’s the fest that people love to hate, but with live performances by The Sheepdogs, Passion Pit, and Rich Aucoin (confetti cannon included), we weren’t complaining (too much). Assunta Alegiani fills us in on the CMW Indie Awards showcase.
1. Rich Aucoin
The other day, I watched this TED talk on achieving transcendence by contributing to something bigger than one’s self-interest. Watching Halifax wunderkind Rich Aucoin deliver his cathartic live show was a prime example of that talk unfolding. Skeptical whether his multimedia sense explosion would work on such a grand scale, I was surprised to see how well it did. After all, the appeal of his performances comes from the close interaction Aucoin has with his audience and generating an immediate group feeling, which works perfectly in smaller venues. But armed with his standard confetti cannon and parachute, Aucoin just as easily animates a room of 500 people as one of 50. —A.A.
2. Passion Pit
The US electro-poppers Passion Pit were the closing act for the night. The hall had emptied out a bit by the time they came on, with many in the back sitting on the floors and texting. But in the front, there was still a party going on. With their move to major label Columbia and a forthcomi ng album, excitement for some new songs was guaranteed. But their set was a short-lived affair. After only five songs, two of which were new, they wished everyone a good night and finished off with hit single “Sleepyhead” at 12 am sharp. Despite this short-lived affair, the new material sounded promising, though not as catchy as “Little Secrets.” —A.A.
3. PS I Love You
Toronto noise-rock staples PS I Love You were of course one to see at CMW this year. A bad mix at Lee’s Palace that buried the vocals almost entirely did not slow them down and the fans certainly didn’t seem to mind. Mixing material from their forthcoming sophomore album and fan favourites like “Facelove” and “2012” from their breakthrough debut, the set was one of their first shows with their new guitar/synth player to help spread the workload amongst three people. The addition was really noticeable, giving another intense sonic layer to their already potent fuzz rock that Torontonians have come to love. —R.K.
4. Cloud Nothings
With a festival lineup fairly light on headliners (save for Slash and some reuniting ‘90s bands), bands gathering blog buzz were the most anticipated. Facing a packed Friday night Lee’s Palace, Cloud Nothings fit that profile to a tee. Bashing out immediately frenetic punk songs from their new album, Attack on Memory, drummer Jayson Gerycz’s limbs fly everywhere and singer Dylan Baldi screams his lungs out. His raspy growl sounds like Milo of the Descendents — the guitars aren’t far off either. The band hit the hardest during the album’s centrepiece, “Wasted Days,” turning a hard-and-fast tune into a ten-minute guitar jam. Baldi was on his knees hammering at his guitar. Their songs sound like they’re going to fly off the rails, but Baldi’s hooks manage to grab on and never let go. —N.W.
5. Eight and a Half
Riding on the credentials they earned with their previous bands Broken Social Scene (Justin Peroff) and the late The Stills (Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil), the trio Eight and a Half have garnered a fair amount of hype in the last few weeks. No surprise then to find the Horseshoe packed Friday night. Singer and guitarist Dave Hamelin took a while to ease into the spotlight, and it was only when they finally played their first single “Go Ego” that Hamelin seemed to let himself go. While the synth-heavy pop was a smooth, brooding delight, the band was a bit too static and let the music do the talking.
6. The Darcys
The Darcys stood in stark contrast to Eight and a Half’s detached performance. Right from the very first song, singer Wes Marskell projects infectious energy as he dances jerkily while singing. Playing incredibly loud, the band sounds much harder live than on record and at various times plays itself into a frenzy of droning sound walls.
I’ve tried to get into Zeus, I swear. I know they are good musicians. Otherwise the Horseshoe would’ve hardly been as packed as it was at this point. And no wonder, the quartet not only delivers a tight performance but also knows how to interact with the crowd. Perhaps it’s the surprising amount of men wearing sports caps that night, but I can’t help thinking that Zeus has become the new bro-band (y’know, when the guy from the sports bar feels all alternative and wants to “rock out”). Perhaps it’s the fact that the band’s only song I could still listen to over and over again is their heavier version of Genesis’ “That’s All.” But judging by the Horseshoe reception, I’m the only one feeling that way and, purely objectively speaking, I’m glad it is so.
8. Dan Mangan
When at 2 am “secret guest” Dan Mangan took the stage, the surprise was null thanks to the night’s schedule posted all over the venue. Just as with Zeus, Dan Mangan simply isn’t my thing. But all personal taste aside, he delivered a great performance. Throughout his 1 ½ hour set (!), there were passionate audience sing-a-longs — “they want to be loved by you” — the man himself stage-dived, and at one point, he played on a table amidst the audience. His communal folk rock is a solid formula: one guy kept coming up to me and my friend, asking “what’s with the not clapping?”; I think he was genuinely offended we were not swayed.
Top 5 CMW Moments
A.A. + R.K.
- Rich Aucoin incorporating one of my all-time favourite YouTube videos, The Honey Badger, into his performance. ‘Cause “honey badger don’t give a shit!”
- Paul Rodgers’ special guest vocals with The Sheepdogs.
- Utter confusion followed by amusement when I realized that Islands, slated to play the Velvet Underground Wednesday night, were not in fact the Montreal band but some hardcore metal act. Is CMW tricking people into attending shitty shows (disclaimer: I have not listened to the other Islands; they might be fantastic for all I know)?!
- The music industry is a kindergarten: free Jelly Beans, chocolate eggs, and granola bars in the media/artist room at the Indies. I’m not complaining.
- “I Just Want My Mic Stand Back” (this is a reference to the terrible MTV show I Just Want My Pants Back; I watch it very guiltily, to my great pleasure) could have been the title of the Dears’ set at the ElMo. Singer Murray Lightburn faced a tricky choice when his mic ascended its stand: sing without playing guitar or play guitar at the expense of singing. That’s the downside of having only two hands.