Published Sep 01, 2003By Chuck Molgat, Helen Spitzer and Michael Barclay
Given the press fawning over his basement-recorded debut, Stephen Noel Kozmeniuk had a lot to contend with in proving that the songs would translate well live. Happily, they did just that. The band was solid and the impish Kozmeniuk performed with grace and sincere enthusiasm. Live, the songs are more joyful and buoyant than the over-orchestrated closeness of the record — a pleasant surprise.
Broken Social Scene
You'd be forgiven for mistaking Saturday night's headliners for one of the many workshops, as many of this band's members could be seen all weekend with their other projects: Jason Collett (solo), Emily Haines and James Shaw (Metric), Leslie Feist (solo), Chris Brown (with Kate Fenner) and Julie Penner (Fembots). The revolving stage door couldn't detract from power of the core band, but only enhanced it, and by the end of the triumphant set the family reunion vibe was plenty evident by the group hugs backstage.
Facing only his second pseudo-folk festival audience ever, the pride of Mount Euniak, NS charmed the pants off of everyone, including open-minded Sarah Harmer fans and the beaming grandmotherly security guard (only at Hillside!) at stage left. After his oddball choice of opening track — the heart-wrenching "Stella" — Buck's between song spiels were as entertaining as the wealth of material he previewed from his new album, notably the hip-hop hoedown "Wicked and Weird."
Chris Brown and Kate Fenner
Even though both Brown and Fenner are about to release their first solo albums, nothing can unglue their magical musical chemistry, as evidenced on plenty of strong new material. Ably backing them up were guitarist Tony Scherr, flying in from a tour in Pittsburgh for the occasion, former Bourbon Tabernacle Choir band-mate Jason Mercer on bass and Rheostatic Michael Phillip Wojewoda on drums.
Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart Though as sweet-sounding and accessible as ever, plenty has changed with Stacey Earle since her last Hillside appearance. For one thing, she has reconciled her long-time mutual backup-playing partnership with Mark Stuart, which, according to the duo's warm and inspired set this time around, is a bonus for all involved, especially audience members. Earle has also emerged from that brother-of-Steve thing, a fact due in no small part to her talent for crafting highly originally, always intelligent songs, and her distinct, easygoing style of roots-y presentation. Ditto for dude. This pair's main stage set was perfect toe-tapping, close your eyes and drink it in summer festival fare. One was left with the impression that none would've complained had it gone on all evening.
The Fembots have a seemingly infinite capacity to rearrange and reinvent their songs with every live performance. Here, the subtle and lovely details were provided by James Anderson on banjo, singing saw and sleigh bells. Core FemBots Dave McKinnon and Brian Poirier were blissed out and in full form, but it was Anderson's deft touch with a wine glass and toy school bus piano that made the afternoon truly magical.
Last year at this time Merritt was just re-emerging as a live performer after a long retirement and seemed sheepishly overwhelmed at the reaction to his return and new material. This year he returned with a four-piece string section led by violinist Anne Lindsay and his ever-present secret weapon, David Woodhead on bass, accordion and bass drum. The only slip in this otherwise note-perfect performance was the fact that Merritt misjudged his set time, leading to a premature boot. A full evening with the strings is clearly in order.
Louder and harder than you might ever have imagined, Metric gleefully fucked with the hippie fest. The afternoon's folky vibe was shattered with the first screech of keyboards and guitar. Emily Haines kept the crowd rapt and slack-jawed with her guttural sighs, growls and hiccups, not to mention her hot spastic dance moves. But it was her reluctance to fully connect with the audience that stopped the performance just short of succexy.
This rock-solid Kitchener sextet made sure no one mistook Hillside for a straight-up folk festival. The temperature under the tented Island stage's big-top seemed to climb throughout the Miniatures' set of catchy, hook-laden, classically-styled rock, prompting what must have been some of the most brisk beer sales of the entire weekend. Some mid-set dub inflections, à la the Clash, made things that much more kinetic and helped ensure the band most honourable mentions, if not full-on highlight reel action.
This was a long-awaited return after a nine-year absence, and this career-spanning set didn't disappoint in the least. Opening with the majestic "Self-Serve Gas Station" and including guest slots from Kevin Hearn, Chris Brown, Kate Fenner and Lewis Melville, the only thing holding the Rheos back was the noticeable absence of their guitar tech Tim Mech, as the set's momentum was often threatened by malfunctioning equipment. But there was hardly an unsatisfied ear when they closed the 20th Hillside Festival with their revisionist reading of Jane Siberry's "One More Colour," which was conspicuously absent from their legendary collaboration with her all those years ago.
Warsawpack / Noah23 / Buck 65 / Baracuda72
Even scheduled straight-up against Sarah Harmer, the side tent filled up quickly for this fiery Friday night closer. A bit of a Canuck hip-hop dream team, it also gave members of Warsawpack an opportunity to show off their improvisational chops. Surrounded by gawking onlookers, Buck 65 stuck resolutely to his decks. Noah 23 and Baracuda72 pulled compadres Greysol, Tykus and Selix to the stage for a turn on the mic, and finally coaxed Lee Raback to join in the fun.
It's hard to imagine a more luxurious setting for Wiley's captivating and dreamy songs than a gorgeous sunset on the first night of the festival. With the aid of Dale Murray's pedal steel guitar, songs like "Long Live Sin" and "Home" were bathed in gorgeous twilight textures, even though Wiley's voice alone had the crowd spellbound.