Published Feb 06, 2011The third of the Juno Awards-produced tributes to Canadian music of the past four decades paid homage to the '90s. Given that this was the breakthrough decade for both Canadian independent rock and homegrown hip-hop, it was fitting that these two genres dominated the show.
With a talent-heavy list of notable '90s stars waiting in the wings for their turn to shine, the evening kicked off with a raunchy take on Big Sugar's "Digging a Hole" from young trio the Coppertone. Former MuchMusic VJs Steve Anthony and Craig Halket, the hosts for the night, then introduced Tristan Psionic. After an early stumble, they locked into a groove with an opening instrumental and a cover of a tune by underground Calgary heroes the Primrods. Following them up, Toronto trio hHead were missing original bassist Brendan Canning (Broken Social Scene), but impressed on two of their era favourites.
Playing solo, the Grapes of Wrath's Kevin Kane did justice to "All the Things I Wasn't" and was backed by Brett Caswell & the Marquee Rose for the Skydiggers' "I Will Give You Everything." Would have been nice to hear Andy Maize on this one, though. Caswell and his six-piece band then accompanied singers from four '90s-era bands, assisting Stephen Stanley on Lowest of the Low classic "Salesmen, Cheats and Liars," trading 13 Engines' wall of sound with a rootsier approach with John Critchley and the Marquee Rose, and helping nicely replicate the spirited power pop of Killjoys hit "Rave and Drool" with Mike Trebilcock.
"We grew up on his records," said Caswell when introducing Sloan's Chris Murphy. After responding with a joking "shut up," Murphy delivered a true highlight of the night with "Underwhelmed," a song that would win many votes as the best Canadian song of the '90s and elicited an audience singalong. Hardcore heroes Chore impressed with their Hüsker Dü-like blend of muscle and melody, and they backed up Alexisonfire's Wade MacNeil (a strong version of Rusty's "Misogyny"), Change of Heart's Ian Blurton (a ZZ Top-style and hilarious take on Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know") and Treble Charger's Bill Priddle, whose rendition of the classic "Red" was another high point.
Time constraints prevented an expected appearance of Bidiniband, sadly forcing the audience to miss out on any Rheostatics faves. Just as the parade of guitar-wielding male rockers was about to wear thin, Michie Mee added some welcome estrogen-laced energy to the night. After giving a shout-out to "all the ladies in the house," the hip-hop heroine looked and sounded great. She tore it up on "Jamaican Funk," then introduced her band Raggadeath, whose high-decibel sound fused Mee's intense raps with scorching metal licks to powerful effect.
Lightening up proceedings next were One, whose horn-driven ska/reggae hybrid remained a fun one. Clearly having a great time was frontman Chris Taylor, now better known as a top entertainment lawyer and head of Last Gang Records. Choclair delivered some free-flowing rhymes and shout-outs to T Dot in his short spirited set, and the night was closed out by fellow Toronto hip-hop heroes Dream Warriors. Versions of their three biggest songs, international hit "My Definition," "Ludi" and "Wash Your Face in My Sink," were strong, but the self-congratulatory comments by King Lou were a mite annoying.
A four-and-a-half-hour show cannot provide a definitive look at the decade, but this one was a timely and entertaining reminder of some of its musical richness.