Published Oct 27, 2014With Halloween-appropriate cobwebs strung around the venue, a skull with ominously flashing eyes hanging above the bar, and an opening song called "Bodies in the Winter," you'd think that Paper Lions were a haunting troupe that waxed poetic about the darker side of the snowy season.
That assumption couldn't be farther from the truth: Paper Lions' tunes are nearly entirely major chords with upbeat vocals, breakneck drum work by David Cyrus Macdonald and a power-pop sensibility, with some traces of Arkells and Vampire Weekend. The quartet, hailing from Charlottetown, PEI, have been a presence in the Canadian indie rock scene for nearly a decade, including their stint as the Chucky Danger Band, and their long-time connectivity showed through their impeccable vocal harmonies. This was most notable on the intro to "Philadelphia," the lead single from last year's My Friends LP; while the lyrics were simple and on-the-nose, reminiscing about a family vacation, the harmonized intro was captivating, and segued into a nice, catchy tune.
Paper Lions' music is charming and inoffensive, with a smart pop sensibility that endeared the growing crowd. While the music was occasionally too saccharine, late-set highlight "Strawberry Man," from their self-titled 2008 record, merged their great harmonies with in-your-face riffs and a jammy breakdown that infused new life (and a bit of edge) into the tune.
Saskatchewan pop-rockers Rah Rah prefaced their set in apologetic Canadian fashion, politely asking those seated at tables in the front to move to the side to make way for the eager crowd. That move was absolutely necessary: over the course of the hour, a solid crowd of spastic dancers and exuberant singers-along provided a sweaty accompaniment to the quintet's catchy tunes.
With a clean sound bolstered by Kristina Hedlund's violin (and, occasionally, autoharp), the band rifled through songs from their three albums and even gave the audience a little taste of their upcoming fourth LP, due in March. Kicking things off with "Betrayal Pt. 1," from their 2008 debut LP Going Steady, Marshall Burns' plaintive drawling vocals provided a nice anchor for the instrumental whirlwind around him — although said whirlwind was filled with calculated riffs and nice pacing that revealed a predisposition for crafting song structures to maximize audience enjoyment. The band seemed into it, too; despite their minimal banter, the brief, between-song musings and conversations were endearing, and they were clearly well rehearsed. They navigated multiple instrumental switches in-song instead of using banter to cover them, an admirable trait for the outfit as they approach their ten-year anniversary next year.
Another early highlight was "Henry," with a great shouted bridge of "Hey Henry, you better lock that shit down!" which incited the crowd into yet another frenzy. The band was definitely able to feed off of the fervent audience's vitality, with danceable tracks like "20s," and some nice new tunes including "Be Your Man," which retains its pep while playing with complex meter.
By the end of the set, the band had thrown giant letter balloons (spelling "RAH") into the crowd, a stunt that was either amazing or obnoxious, depending on if you were gleefully holding onto them for dear life or trying to avoid being smacked in the face. But that was just a testament to how well the band worked the crowd; the confetti cannon seemed like a victory lap, with the crowd already established as devotees of the quintet, lapping up (and singing along to) every word.