Published Sep 24, 2013Making the move to Toronto's upscale Carlu, the 2013 Polaris Music Prize Gala hosted fans and industry alike for a night of praise and performances. Honouring ten of the finest Canadian records of the year, the 2013 Polaris Music Prize ultimately went to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!; they did not attend.
The show was hosted by Shad and Kathleen Edwards (both were quick to point out that they'd both lost the award twice), who proved to be solid anchors even though the multitude of performances necessitated long breaks between each act. Edwards got change flying into the swear jars at each table from her first sentence, and endeared herself to the audience with gimmicks like her Flying Colours promotional onesie and playing the Robin Thicke to Shad's Miley Cyrus.
Raphaelle Standell-Preston from previously-shortlisted band Braids was the first guest presenter, nervously gushing about her fellow Albertan musicians, Purity Ring. The electronic duo kicked the show off, walking on to a stage bedecked with glowing, dangling egg-like structures and twinkling lights, befitting the surreal and magical sounds of "Obedear" and "Fineshrine" from Shrines.
Zaki Ibrahim followed after an introduction from Michie Mee, gliding onstage entirely cloaked in black to join her eccentric backing band. Midway through the first song, Ibrahim ditched the cape in favour of an impossibly short minidress and upped the energy with her vogue-inspired dancing, intricate rhythms and soulful vocals.
Death From Above 1979's Sebastian Grainger introduced Metric, detailing his long-standing connection to them, and scoping out the room in the event one of his two forthcoming records lands him back on stage next year. They took a laid-back approach to their set, with Emily Haines at the piano and James Shaw on acoustic guitar as they ran through a stripped-down version of Synthetica's "Breathing Underwater." The piano was abandoned for a speech from Haines before the album's title track went a bit hillbilly with only guitar and Haines bopping around, mic in hand.
Canadian screenwriter and TV producer Martin Gero made his love for Colin Stetson known as he introduced what was easily a highlight of the night. The sax man didn't take up much space standing alone in the middle of the stage, but filled the theatre with his transfixing breed of experimental saxophone music. Made more impressive by the fact that he was playing with a recently-broken finger, Stetson left onlookers flabbergasted, including Kevin Drew and Feist, who started the movement for a standing ovation.
It wouldn't have been easy for anyone to follow Stetson, but a full stage of Toronto's Choir! Choir! Choir! being introduced by George Stroumboulopoulos and then belting out Tegan and Sara's "Closer" (a song that remarkably manages to be equal parts sugary and cheesy) was a definite downward turn.
Whitehorse were up next — introduced by Sarah McLachlan — and Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland's chemistry radiated off the stage, as their vocals looped, guitars rang (Doucet's White Falcon still in fine form) and the pair attacked the wide array of percussive instruments on stage. It was an unexpectedly raw and energetic showing, prompting Edwards to make an apt Tarzan and Jane joke afterwards.
Stuck in a bit of a tough slot, Young Galaxy tried to reign in the increasingly restless crowd with their swoon-worthy synth-pop. One of the more stylish performances, the band looked dapper in their all black get-up, with bright lights and neon geometric shapes swirling on the screen behind as they brought onlookers a taste of Ultramarine. It was a solid effort, but everything in the show up to this point would be blown out of the water by the next live act.
Music journo Jessica Hopper briefly introduced the yet-to-be-crowned winners, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with a few brief words — which was to be expected. Then it switched back to the live stuff.
It shouldn't be surprising to anyone anymore that METZ are loud. Like, really fucking loud. But their stint on stage at the Carlu was METZ on 'roids. The usual aural pummelling was complemented by an onslaught of blinding lights that probably would have elicited a lot of cheers if that sort of thing could have been heard. The standing O at the end may have been a combination of the band's awesomeness and the attendees' rising level of drunkeness, but either way, METZ injected some much-needed life in to the show.
A Tribe Called Red took the stage after kind words from author Joseph Boyden and delivered a spectacle to end the show. Their genre-blending beats were accompanied by a dancer, whose mystifying ability to control and jump through maybe a dozen hoops at a time had everyone captivated. Blending forward-thinking music with traditional elements of the group's Native Canadian heritage, it was an entertaining end to the performances.
The winner's announcement was rather anticlimactic, though. Last year's recipient Feist was a good sport about presenting the award, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor weren't on hand to pick it up. Made slightly more uncomfortable in light of the band's statement rejecting the pomposity of the event, the presentation was made to Constellation Records' Ian Ilavsky, who said the band would thank everybody involved in Polaris that "care about independent music and who think that independent music still has a promise to do something in terms of its choices and its structures and its methods that is counter to the mainstream." You can read his full acceptance speech here.
In spite of the dragging nature of these events and no-show winners, memorable moments from some of Canada's finest up-and-comers and treasured favourites still made for an enjoyable show. And the fact that the building was buzzing with debate until the moment the prize was awarded would make anyone there proud to be a fan of Canadian music.