Canadian Music Week 2003 February 26 to March 1

Canadian Music Week 2003 February 26 to March 1
By Chuck Molgat, Del F. Cowie, Elizabeth Bridge, Joshua Ostroff, Noel Dix, Roman Sokal, Star Deibert-Turner and Stuart Green 8 Foot Sativa Holy time warp. Take a Rob Halford/Phil Anselmo wannabe, drop him in front of a band that has spent the last eight years forgetting that Pantera and Slayer aren't as cool as they used to be and you have the essence of this New Zealand quartet. Although their sound is derivative of the hair swinging thrash metal of the late '80s and early '90s, they presented it with such reverence, affection and with originality that what they lacked in cool they made up for in honesty and energy. SG Alexisonfire When it comes to the post-Grade Southern Ontario screamo scene, this hyper-kinetic quintet is definitely the band to watch. While their intensity comes across well on record, it can't compare to the additional wallop you get with a visual presentation. The flailing and jerking reminds us that while At the Drive-In is gone, they are certainly not forgotten. AOF probably packed more power and passion into their 35-minute set than the rest of the weekend's bands combined. Frightening, really. SG Bionic "Holy fuck!" That's what you'll yell pretty much every time this beard bedecked Montreal crew takes a stage. And they will make you yell it very loudly. The dynamic duo of ex-Doughboy Jonathan Cummins and indie guitar god Ian Blurton, not too mention the rest of this bad ass band, came, saw and delivered an AC/DC-inspired beat-down. Cummins even called the crowd out on being too "Toronto" during an unfortunately middling middle, but by the raging end of their set, Bionic proved better, stronger and faster than the rest of the bill. JO Jully Black With her debut on MCA Records mere months away, anticipation regarding Toronto singer Jully Black's new material was high. Her commanding stage presence and band gave extra juice to her old material and whetted the appetite for the new. Toronto MC and frequent Black producer Saukrates sauntered on stage to deliver backing vocals and rhymes on "Between Me & You," and when the groove to "Heaven," her recent collaboration with Nas, began, the lighters came out. Jully Black is clearly ready for her close-up. DFC Boomkat Developed under the auspices of Robbie Robertson and Dreamworks, this Los Angeles-based brother/sister (and then some) hip trip dance pop groove collective are the irradiated SuperFriends stage version of a high-gloss commercial act, but done with a lot of style while still maintaining indie credibility. Singer and actress Taryn Manning should appeal to all — she's a throaty, raspy kind of girl whose determination and attitude can be fierce, soft, sultry and hard-edged. Boomkat is explosive, and they definitely make an artist like Pink seem brown and charred on the inside. RS Brassmunk Their excellent Dark Sunrise EP is one of the best releases to emerge from Toronto's hip-hop scene in quite some time, so Brassmunk had a right to have smiles on their faces. MCs Clip, May 19, S-Roc and DJ/producer Agile played most of that release in their set to an appreciative throng at the Opera House, with their inter-group bonhomie and charisma clearly apparent. As a bonus to their loosely enjoyable show, "one to watch" singer Natasha Waterman guested on "Whistle While You Work," and Ivana Santilli came through for her vocal duties on the gold rush yarn "El Dorado." DFC Broken Social Scene Toronto's beloved indie pop super-group's show was the festival's first "must see" gig, as well as serving as a send-off for their national tour. But instead of devolving into a jam session, as their special guest-heavy shows sometimes do, about 11 social scenesters pumped out an epic approximation of their better with each listen You Forgot It In People. Having a total crush on Metric's lead singer Emily Haines might make me biased, but her voice-altered reading of the euphoric lament "Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl" was easily the night's highlight. JO Kayte Burgess Despite being unceremoniously tucked away into the remote corner of the Red Square, and having to deal with limited room on stage, which meant she was virtually parallel to her backing singers, singer-songwriter Kayte Burgess did a good job, given the circumstances, as her taut band fleshed out her well-crafted songs and assured voice with soulful flair. Aside from the ill-advised move to awkwardly don a guitar and ask an audience member for a pick at the end of her set, Burgess maintained momentum and control in a polished showcase. DFC Cheerleadër Cheerleadër's cock rock antics were both too much and not enough. Plus, by this time my ears were bleeding. If the glam-fuelled old-school punk-metal rockers were going to be following Bionic, they had to be better. However, despite the love they receive from such luminaries as Lemmy and porn director/Exclaim! scribe Bruce LaBruce, Cheerleadër managed only to be louder. Umlauts notwithstanding, I had to bail from boredom. JO The Dears The Montreal art-rockers like to call their particular sound "orchestral pop noir romantique," which is as good a name as any for their mix of guitars, megaphones, trumpets, trombones and analog keyboards. While their shambolic style took some time to gel, during which a healthy portion of the crowd departed, eventually the Dears built the music from their upcoming No Cities Left into a swirling pop maelstrom while Blur-lovin' lead singer Murray Lightburn kneeled prostrate before the speakers, offering feedback as penance for our sins. Then they teased us with the guitar-riff from Eminem's "Lose Yourself" to prove they weren't taking themselves that seriously. JO DJ Krush Pulling out records from behind his back like a samurai sword, Japan's finest hip-hop producer captivated the crowd with gorgeous soundscapes and haunting break beats. Manipulating cuts from abstract hip-hop to pulsating drum & bass, Krush blanketed the crowd with his beautiful signature sound, and the room was begging for more. ND Pat DiNizio The vocalist for venerable New Jersey rockers the Smithereens may have packed on more than a few pounds, but his lust for performing certainly hasn't gone to pot. Whizzing through a set of Smithereens tunes old and new-ish, DiNizio was clearly happy to be on a stage where his music was known. His uncooperative guitar may have been having a hard time staying in tune, but the man with one of the best voices in rock did not. SG Dr. Noh Drawing on influences ranging from Zappa to Zorn and Threadgill to Squarepusher, the Montreal double drum and bass/jazz fusion collective were as captivating to watch as they are they were complex in their arrangements. Their use of live techno beats played nicely against the traditional freestyle jazz, including blurting trumpet fills and echoing guitar noodling. SG Filmmaker One of the greatest things to come out of Saskatchewan since the modern social democracy movement, Filmmaker didn't let a gruelling drive and illness stop them from delivering a top-notch show, which highlighted material from their An Invitation to an Accident disc. The nuanced emo chug of the disc's varied songs was reproduced in all its glory. Definitely a band to watch. SG Graph Nobel Starting off quietly with an acoustic-style duet, Graph Nobel and her band worked up slowly to an almost frantic pace. Her perfectly crafted full-circle pop songs echoed elements of hip-hop, soul and blues, and placed her vocals right where they should be: front and centre. Carrying on in a sultry groove, Graph seemed almost in a trance as she peered through the crowd, urging show goers to move along — her voice was smooth, full and lascivious even when simply speaking. SDT IRS With their infectiously bouncy beats and energetic stage presence, IRS raised the crowd's energy level as they ran through tracks from their Welcome To Planet IRS release. Korry Deez and Black Katt held down the mic, combining raw, unadorned lyrics and melodic hooks while DJ T.R.A.C.K.S. added his much appreciated vinyl rubs, as the crew received instant recognition from the crowd on "Manipulation" and bass throbbing set closer "Controlled Anger." DFC Just Like The Movies The masked alter ego of former Mudfish vocalist Chris Mills, JLTM is like the Lone Ranger of one-man bands, but without the horse and stereotypical sidekick. Mills and his portable keyboard came programmed to party like a Euro-trash fusion of They Might Be Giants and Beck. Technical glitches that forced him to search long and hard for his musical loops couldn't deter him from his mission, and his aerobic accompaniment to an ever-quickening version of "Venus" was truly something to behold. SG King Cobb Steelie Guelph's long-running "funk" band put in a typically tight but underwhelming performance. Mixing up vocal songs and instrumentals, what began as dub-inspired indie funk rock eventually devolved into longwinded jams that sounded more like movements than songs and quickly tried one's patience. Though at least they did inject some politics into the proceedings (new song "Death to David Frum," for instance, which was melodic but hard-edged), alongside their bongo percussion. And their keyboard-driven closer was a dance floor keeper that actually ended their performance on a high note. JO Daniel Lanois This Hamilton-bred album producer and songwriter extraordinaire turned the El Mocambo into the elite place to be and created a giant, welcoming, universal, timeless space with his cosmically melodic music, even though the club was packed tight with devoted fans. He was accompanied only by drummer Brian Blade and the occasional back-up singer, yet the warm tonalities of their instruments, the intense soul behind the songwriting and the sometimes minimally sparse but dense music made the venue ooze with infinite melting passion. Legendary. RS Les Marmottes Aplaties The boys can rock, and who cares if it's rehashed '70s-style punk rock riffs played on low-slung guitars? What sets this band apart is its Quebecois provenance, although there was little hint of it that night — the vocals were rough and they declined to address the audience much. The crowd reciprocated with friendly indifference, which is hardly the raucous reception Les Marmottes Aplaties no doubt get, and deserve, when they play closer to home. EB Carolyn Mark After Carolyn Mark's full-band, ultra-energetic and subliminally freaky full-on country music performance, one wonders why she isn't billed with metal, thrash or punk rock acts, as she and her band-mates practically brought the Horseshoe to its knees. Songs of heartbreak, redemption and plain old party tunes were done with a furore witnessed no where else that weekend. One also wonders if they made it home safely, since they played like it was their last show, and night, on earth. RS Mista Cronks Those well-versed in the history of Canadian hip-hop may remember the front-man of Mista Cronks in his previous incarnations as a member of both Edmonton's Maximum Definitive and acid jazz combo Bass Is Base. Mista Cronks successfully combines the hip-hop and acid jazz flavours of those groups. The only blemish on their soulful set was the rudeness of the Red Square's house DJ, who yelled, "Give it up for the band" and promptly dropped the needle on R&B hits without giving the group the chance to properly end their set. DFC The Organ Ever wonder what the Smiths would sound like if Morrissey was a sexually ambiguous chick leading a cute girl group from Vancouver? Wonder no more. The Organ play their mopey music completely in character, offering up their names on tight T-shirts, à la the Donnas, but sharing none of that band's exuberance. Instead, they all project expressionless Less Than Zero-style detachment while performing their slightly updated version of dark punk-inspired synth pop. This was one of the best of the festival's crop of indie rockers once again at peace with electronic music. JO Outrageous Cherry The departure of retro-fox bassist Aran Ruth has definitely upset the gender balance formerly enjoyed by Outrageous Cherry. Otherwise, the veteran Motor City psyche-pop quartet showed no ill-effects of the three-month-old line-up change. On the contrary, this was likely the band's most solid Toronto performance yet, as the comparatively dynamic playing of Ruth's youthful replacement served to boost the on-stage confidence level considerably while affording way more depth to the band's typically straightforward avant-garage routine. CM Radiogram Maybe it was just a venue thing, but Radiogram's CMW showcase was night and day compared to the band's less-than-inspired 2002 Hogtown gig at Rancho Relaxo. Unlike that grumpy matinee, this time the Vancouver outfit practically refused to leave the stage, in turn delighting the sizeable crowd on hand to take in the unit's alternately rambling and soaring roots-pop mini-epics. The set's crescendo-like finale was augmented with the eerie bowed saw playing of Weakerthans drummer Jason Tait. CM Reign This thoughtful and poetic MC's arresting raspy voice relies on intricate storytelling rather than straight-up mic rocking. With Murr of LAL and Da Grassroots playing sparse, low-key beats off his Mac laptop, the style of Reign's performance at the Savannah Lounge was intensely intimate and would have probably benefited from a dimly lit setting. Nevertheless, performances of "Who Don't Hear Mus Feel" and the sobering bluesy narrative of "Lookin 4 Love" rewarded those who paid close attention. DFC Rheostatics In theory, it probably seemed like a good idea to have the Rheostatics perform a live set to close out Canadian Music Week's third-annual Indie Awards. In practice though, the gig must have ranked among the lamest in the band's recent history, as award show co-host Dave Bidini and company rocked the vacuous empty-bottle laden concert theatre to the delight of a meagre 30 or 40 stragglers. The rest of the crowd had either bailed outright or were busy blackening their lungs down the hall at MTV's cramped VIP soiree, along with the cast and crew of Can-rock reality show Our Lady Peace. How indie is that? CM Sadies Before the Sadies came on, I was rueing the fact that I hadn't got my ass over to the Horseshoe earlier in the evening to see Victoria, BC's best country crooner, Carolyn Mark. No matter — she came to me, popping up partway through the Good brothers' twangy set. Since we'd all seen their blend of punk, surf and country murder ballads, it provided the only unexpected moment of their set. But once again, no matter. Johnny Cash doesn't mess with his formula and the Sadies are tight enough that they don't have to either. JO The Snitches These days a certain degree of pomposity is expected from bands dressed in matching white suits. But you won't find that from Montreal's the Snitches, who took the stage with their hearts on their sleeves and a commendable roll call of straight-up and jolting rock'n'roll numbers tucked under their (matching) belts. Front-man Scott Moodie let loose his spastic stage antics and flailing gestures, not letting up until the last song, and not before the crowd-pleasing "Right Before My Eyes" made an appearance in lieu of the latest video hit, "Willie." Honest rock fun. SDT Soft Canyon Coming to life from the ashes of the beloved, yet defunct, Montreal power rock act Tricky Woo, Soft Canyon take the best elements of the latter day Woo — their ‘70s classic rock sounds — slow them down and adds a mysterious dose of modern credibility. Most important, however, was the addition of creamy keyboards, which seemed to take the music to another level. Soft Canyon still rock as much as Tricky Woo ever did, but in a different way. Consider them the Tantric sex version of rock and roll. RS The Stars Seeing the Stars live is nothing like hearing them on record, which can be both good and bad. They gave the studio dream pop from Heart a more aggressive, jangle-y edge on stage that unfortunately took away from what makes the Montrealers so special. But by the time they got to the two-part harmonies of their single "Elevator Love Letter," the increased intensity helped bring out the unabashed joy within the synth-propelled indie pop epic and the crowd was largely won over. JO Sully One of Toronto's best-kept secrets seems to have stripped down their sound and is progressing in a more electronic direction, opting for more keyboards over guitar distortion and even toning down their previously released numbers. Becke Gainforth's vocals were then allowed to breath more effortlessly than before, sounding more gorgeous than ever. ND Tangiers With their brand new album, Hot New Spirits, in hand, Toronto rock quartet Tangiers laid down a sizzling set of pogo-worthy jams, thus proving worthy of their next big thing status. The garage rockers (built from the remains of the Deadly Snakes and the Killer Elite) play music as catchy as pop-punk, but rooted in a '60s barn burning swagger that carries off their "loud as all get out" cacophony through sheer oomph. Woo, woo! All that was left to do was destroy their equipment. Of course, if they could afford to do that they wouldn't be at CMW. JO Tijuana Bibles This Toronto masked Mexican-style wrestling band put on an entertaining show, and given the lateness of the hour, their presence matched the hallucinatory fatigued state of mind that a festival goer falls into after a few days of shows. The mad ensemble plays psychological surf rock music, but not psychological in the Freudian sense, acting more like a pharmaceutical drug, one where you notice things work in your favour while the side effects do their thing as well by obscuring your sense of reality. At one point the band seemed like insects playing AC/DC, the next, like Captain Beefheart-meets-surf in tuxedos. This amusing band has a lot of class. RS Warsawpack A fresh take on the fusion of hip-hop/jazz/funk rock to a prominent political agenda, Hamilton's Warsawpack welcomed a more sombre mood as the Snitches following act. With a complicated, but smooth, delivery that sounds so much better live, Warsawpack blended tricky turntable work with twice the horn section alongside all the regulars. Vocalist Lee Raback seemed comfortable in his voice — unfaltering in rhyme as well as in melodic moments — and somehow managed a consistent anti-war, anti-consumerist message without coming across as jaded or naive. The 'Pack has certainly struck a fine balance. SDT