By Ian GormelyThe Polaris Music Prize once again invaded the Masonic Temple in Toronto to dole out the annual award and the $30,000 cheque that comes with the honour. And while there was and will continue to be the usual griping about the winner, what people tend to forget is that the evening also offers attendees (as well as live-webstreamers and, later this week, MuchMusic viewers) a pretty stellar lineup of live performances.
On the surface, Polaris 2012 looked to be a bit of a letdown, as flashier and noisier acts Japandroids, Handsome Furs and Drake would not be performing at the seventh annual gala. (Japandroids were on tour in Germany, Handsome Furs broke up, Drake RSVPed twice and de-RSVPed twice, though according to Polaris founder Steve Jordan, a performance from the MC was never on the table). But the nominees that did grace the building's stage more than made up for their missing peers.
After a brief introduction from hosts Grant Lawrence of CBC Radio 3 and MuchMusic's Lauren Toyota, Fucked Up took the stage in a building from which they were once banned. Frontman Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham wasted no time and began stalking the stage, stripping from a sweatshirt down to a tie-died tee, then finally, shirt-less during their two selections from David Comes to Life (each act get eight minutes to play). He jumped into the crowd to give his newborn a kiss between "Under My Nose" and "The Other Shoe," dedicating the latter to his three-year-old who was at home "with other shit to do."
Despite the band's best efforts, the still mostly sober crowd didn't match the energy of the heaving, drunk masses the group are used to playing to, so it was a somewhat timid performance for a Fucked Up show, but the most aggressive one on this night.
This proved a rather strange act for Cold Specks to follow, especially without the band's drummer present. Add a teary speech from Handsome Furs' Alexei Perry, which acted as the lead-in, and it was an uphill battle. But Al Spx more than held her own, particularly on a stirring version of "Elephant Head," that had the 500-capacity room enraptured.
With Drake MIA, Cadence Weapon was left to rep Canadian hip-hop alone, and he did not disappoint. Making the most of his short time, the Montreal-based MC belted out three songs, including an impassioned take on Hope in Dirt City's excellent single, "Conditioning." He was also the only artist who bothered — and for the most part, succeeded — in engaging with the crowd.
Kathleen Edwards followed a similar path, though she chose to only perform one song from her album, Voyageur, backed by Jim Bryson and a three-piece choir, among others. It was a powerful performance that had many in the audience who had previously dismissed Voyageur as too pedestrian backpedaling. Her earnest post-performance speech was similarly endearing.
Grimes one-upped everyone, bringing in a stripper pole and male dancer named Gary to perform during the Montreal singer's two selections. The odd pairing worked surprisingly well, especially on "Genesis" and gave a bit more oomph to Claire Boucher's stage performance that, while always pretty stellar sonically, is somewhat lacking in theatrics. Host Lawrence described the set as "Anne of Green Gables meets Magic Mike."
Not to be outdone, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan delivered the night's most theatrical performance, donning their now trademark Noh face paint. Unfortunately, the guitar seemed to sit extremely low in the mix. While this emphasized the proggy flourishes of their self-titled debut, it blunted the sonic pummelling that's become a hallmark of their live performances. Like Grimes, Ruby and Alaska gave a shout-out to the close-knit Montrealers in the audience.
Perhaps serendipitously, Feist performed last, flanked by a phalanx of guitars thanks to the addition of Snowblink and AroarA to her live band, which also included Charles Spearin. Like Edwards, Feist certainly made a case for a divisive record, displaying her always stunning vocal and guitar chops. Although her eventual win for last year's Metals stunned some, while pleasing others, there was no doubt that she, like all the nominees, was incredibly deserving of the accolades, whetting appetites for next year when we do it all again.
To see Exclaim!'s Polaris Gala photo gallery, head here.