Meet Exclaim!'s Class of 2023: Eliza Niemi, NYSSA, Louie Short

Week 3 of the series brings Toronto a smattering of pop-rock magic

Photos (clockwise from top left): Eliza Niemi by Ben Mike, NYSSA by Colin Medley, MBG courtesy of the artist, Louie Short

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Jan 18, 2023

Montreal? That's not all! We're back with even more on deck for the third weekend of Exclaim!'s Class of 2023 concert series, proudly supported by Mary Brown's Chicken.

This week brings another double dose of shows to Toronto, with equally stacked lineups of the finest local talent the city has to offer, gracing us with their presences at the Monarch Tavern on Friday, January 20, and the Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday, January 21. Get to know them below.

January 20: Monarch Tavern

Louie Short

If Louie Short is late for his set, please don't worry — he is definitely on his way. The Toronto singer-songwriter released his sophomore album, an aptly short and sweet collection of lounge-y, keyboard pop tunes entitled Omw 4ev, at the end of 2021, and is looking forward to following it up with some new music this year. He characterizes what he's been cooking up as "al dente rock," and thinks Canadians are making some of the most al dente of all rock right now. (We're big into throwing noodles at the wall and seeing what sticks, eh?) As a special treat for the Monarch, Short teases that he and "family member" Eliza Niemi may even get saucy with a little duet action.

Kai Samuels

Kai Samuels's music encapsulates the moments so steeped in truth that irony becomes the only way to the other side. "This year we'll be sharing the fruits of the past couple years' labour," they say of 2023, the year when releasing music exits the realm of abstraction. Yet the myth-making of Samuels's soulful, psychedelic "ADHD R&B" is already a felt presence, bound to grow even greater when they post up at Class of 2023 in a notably cute outfit. Guitarist/bassist Keith Stratton is likewise looking forward to putting his phone down and taking a break from progress reports for FACTOR grants, which he describes as the modern version of patronage.

Eliza Niemi

Last year was a big one for Eliza Niemi. The singer-songwriter released her full-length debut, Staying Mellow Blows — one of Exclaim!'s 25 great Canadian albums you may have missed in 2022. In 2023, she'll be touring it across North America and Europe when she's not busy working toward being able to do three chin-ups. She says someone once described her rasping, gingerly articulated musical cocoons as "oblong" and it has haunted her since (in a good way, she assures). Niemi is eager to reunite with her longtime pal Short and see Samuels and Alyson McNamara live for the first time at the Monarch. "Discovering new artists and seeing what they're up to creatively is very special to me," she says. The whole Class Of premise couldn't agree more.

Alyson McNamara

Alyson McNamara's dreamy, shoegaze-inflected folk rock is instantly evocative. Naturally, her summary of the feeling in conjures is too — she says it's like "going to the drive-in with your ex and for some reason the popcorn tastes really buttery but your fingers don't get greasy and the radio signal is just the perfect amount of fuzzy," which is an absolute scratch-and-sniff sentence. McNamara released her third LP Let Me Sleep in 2021, and is set to record its follow-up in the coming months, and will continue to really dig into co-writing. She's looking forward to Class of 2023 bringing people together that may not have crossed paths otherwise (and if someone overstays their welcome in yours, she recommends generous use of the weird green or blue venue soap).

January 21: Horseshoe Tavern


And you may ask yourself, who's MAX? This is one of those instances where the question isn't a vehicle for whatever the answer might be, but the thing itself. More than anything, MAX are all about "rockin' and rollin' and really havin' fun," according to bandleader Dave Monks (who you may know from Tokyo Police Club, Anyway Gang and also being Dave Monks). For the band, 2023 is looking like a maxin' year of restringing guitars, shopping for outfits and navigating endless email chains about when they can next rehearse. Controversially, they're also recording a new album, for which Monks is deeming the second or third pass of a guitar solo as the hottest Canadian music take. He adds, "Also, the bass takes were coming in pretty hot too."


Local sage NYSSA has a piece of rock 'n' roll history for you: Bob Seger's "Night Moves" — which she correctly deems "the greatest song of all time" — was recorded in Toronto. She's looking to make Saturday night at the Horseshoe another iconic moment of front-page drive-in news for historians to pore over, where they'll write of "the freshness and tender hope of a new year coming through in the music." After all, it's the only way to kick off NYSSA's year ahead, which includes hitting the road with July Talk, releasing new music (following her 2020 debut Girls Like Me), gathering under full moons and around fires, casting spells and swimming in wild places — and all for what if not the CCC: "Collaboration Choreo Covenhood!"


Elsewhere in "cathartic, in-your-face noise-making," it's MBG — the alt-rock project of Brampton multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer Leena Rodriguez. With biting hooks and sticky riffs, her music exudes the punk energy and uncompromising swagger that made her the perfect choice to open for our foremost tween riot grrrls, the Linda Lindas, at Pop Montreal last year alongside pop-punk ingenue Sophia Bel. In 2023, Rodriguez will release the debut MBG album and get as many more shows under her belt as possible — first and foremost, losing her voice at the Horseshoe. 

Lenny Bull

As a recent Exclaim! New Faves alum, rest assured that Lenny Bull won't hesitate to show you how her retro "punky and chunky" rock stylings meet the moment. In addition to the throwback power pop of her latest EP, Strange Vacation, the Torontonian is ready to debut many new songs and dance the night away on Saturday — both onstage and "on the checkerboard floor while all my friends rip," she says. Consider it a warm-up for the rest of the touring Bull will be doing across Canada and Europe this year, alongside recording the project's full-length debut. Although "streaming platforms can suck it," she hopes you'll add it to your Spotify playlists anyway.

For more information on the Class of 2023 concert series, presented in partnership with the City of Toronto's music office, check out the Facebook event pages and purchase tickets for the shows at both the Monarch and the Horseshoe via Showclix. Advance ticketholders will be randomly selected to win a special on-site prize pack at the shows, including a $50 Mary Brown's Chicken gift card, plus merch from the bands and Exclaim!

Next up:
01/27 Hobby / Steel Saddle / Heavy Head / Robinson Kirby - Monarch Tavern
01/28 Rusholme / Loviet / Velvet Beach / Glutenhead - Monarch Tavern

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