With Jay Baruchel hosting and Tyler Kyte's Dwayne Gretzky serving as the house band, the 2014 Polaris Music Prize Gala's lineup started off as what looked to be a Popular Mechanics for Kids reunion. But things quickly settled into exactly what they were supposed to be — a celebration of the best music Canada has to offer.
Baruchel lasted about five minutes before cracking the first joke about Drake skipping out on the ceremony, but there was more than enough entertainment without Drizzy. Nominee Owen Pallett kicked off the performance portion of the evening behind a keyboard, delivering explosive synth bursts that filled the theatre with lush noise. For In Conflict's "The Riverbed," he picked up the violin he's known for and began to absolutely shred. It was a gorgeous but ferocious performance that set the bar high for the evening.
Next up was jangle-pop slacker Mac Demarco, who broke out his best pair of camouflage overalls for the event and took over the stage with a lounge singer-esque rendition of "Still Together" (from last year's not-nominated album, 2), backed by a piano played by a man in an orange robe and a classical guitar. It was one of the more hilarious and memorable moments of the night, and refreshing to see a nominee not take himself so seriously.
Twin sister duo Tasseomancy were on hand to present Timber Timbre's Hot Dreams, though Taylor Kirk and the gang didn't grace the stage. So by the time Basia Bulat bounced into the spotlight looking and sounding like an angel, the crowd were ready for some more music. Her ukulele and piano on Tall Tall Shadow's title track and "It Can't Be You" charmed onlookers, who seemed to reserve a particularly enthusiastic amount of applause for Bulat each time her name was mentioned throughout the gala.
Pallett returned to the stage to playfully introduce Arcade Fire's Reflektor as the second-best album that was nominated, and although Win Butler was present and towering over most attendees, the next actual performance came courtesy of Jessy Lanza. In one of the more adorable presentations of the night, Lanza was introduced by her mother Judy, who praised her daughter's ability to emit sensuality through her sleek R&B music. Lanza Jr. proved her mom right, ripping through a room-shaking rendition of the bass-heavy "Pull My Hair Back" with her breathy falsetto soaring above the dark beats. She also showed off her more upbeat, danceable side with "Keep Moving," which paired black-and-white onscreen visuals with rave-like rainbow-coloured stage lights.
Yamantaka//Sonic Titan were unfortunately otherwise engaged, meaning the audience didn't get to experience Uzu live, though Shad more than made up for it. The old prince was totally laid back on stage, but his flow remained sharp and on point as he spat Flying Colours highlight "Stylin'" into the mic. For "Remember to Remember," he brought out Lights, who squirmed and "ooh"-ed her way through the hook. While her stage presence left a lot to be desired, the guest appearance definitely embodied the collaborative Canadian music community ethos, and the crowd seemed to love it, even clapping along to the final verse.
Prior to a heartfelt pledge of allegiance to Drake's Nothing Was the Same from Anupa Mistry, the Carlu was treated to one final live performance. It couldn't have come at a better time, considering the outcome of the awards portion of the evening and the impossible task of having to step on stage after eventual winner Tanya Tagaq's set. Backed up by the 30-plus members of the Element Choir, Tagaq walked on stage and proceeded to wow everyone in the theatre. The guttural noises coming out of her expelled themselves from her writhing body and eventually built to screams that shook the building.
It was a terrifying, powerful, captivating and ultimately beautiful performance that brought gala attendees to their feet. It was fitting that she would return to the stage minutes later to win the Polaris Prize itself.
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