The haunting beauty of Daughter will unlikely remain contained within intimate venues like The Great Hall for much longer. Their debut album If You Leave (released March 2013) is one that seems a logical continuation of three wonderful EP’s (Demos, His Young Heart, The Wild Youth). It finds lead singer Elena Tonra weaving through slightly more upbeat tapestries whil still maintaining that somber songwriting that hits you “right in the feels”. We’ve all been where she has been and the ease with which she can evoke emotion is something that will take this band far.
The sweltering heat of summer made the two tiny ceiling fans at The Great Hall seem laughable. Openers Wilsen created the perfect vibe to start the night with raw but beautiful songwriting. Definitely a band to look out for. Despite the heat and the 10 minute period of the spotlights shutting on and off at random intervals, Daughter was able to push through with an endearingly timid British demeanor.
They performed songs from their EPs and debut with precision, closing with an incredibly powerful crescendo at the end of “Home”. The crowd, singing along the lyrics to songs like “Landfill” and “Youth” had Elena smiling incredulously, but she should get used to the feeling. Their fanbase is only going to get larger and more passionate as they tour this new album and open for bands like The National this upcoming year.
When you cram a few hundred Canadians into a room with live music and alcohol, you know it’s going to be a good time. That’s the beauty of Canadian Music Fest, which is a six-day jampacked musical showcase that spans 60 venues in Toronto and almost as many genres. From free poutine to standing in line in -20 weather, the week is also uniquely Canadian.
This was my first time at Canadian Music Fest and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Armed with a festival wristband and a pocket full of TTC tokens, I figured I was prepared. I decided early on that I didn’t want to plan out an entire schedule. Instead, I picked a show or two every night that I wanted to see and did my best to avoid lines and cabfare. For the most part, it worked. Sure, there were a few bands that sounded like they met on Craigslist the day before their show… and yes, there were a few shows where the only people in the crowd were family members of the performers (and me). Overall, though, the quality of music was excellent, I met a bunch of cool people, and I even discovered a few bands that I have since come to love.
Here are some of the highlights:
The Damn Truth
Coming from Montreal, The Damn Truth brought their heavy blues sound to Supermarket. The band boasts one of the most powerful and charismatic female singers in Canadian music, an enigma named Leela. Matching solid riffs with pounding drums, The Damn Truth brought the place down with an exciting and energetic show. Highlight of the set was their newest single “Too Late” from album Dear in the Headlights. It truly showcases their sound, one that I’d strongly recommend to any fan of hard rock:
Rivoli is one of the better sounding venues in Toronto and lived up to its reputation during Ben Caplan’s show. One of the single coolest voices I’ve ever heard, his bluesy folk-rock sound from Halifax held the audience captive with just an acoustic guitar. Entertaining with his stage banter, Caplan often would often mention that “Montreal did better” to get the crowd to sing louder. And it worked, with the crowd shouting out the lyrics to “Conduit” and singing back-up on “I’ve Got Me a Woman”. Caplan’s charismatic attitude and musical charm, combined with the great energy from the crowd, made this one of the most fun shows of the week. If you ever get a chance to see Caplan at a small venue, I highly recommend it. Here’s a live video of “Conduit”, which gives you a little taste of Caplan’s charisma with the crowd and that powerful voice:
Unwed Mothers is an up-and-coming blues-rock band from Edmonton. Rocking the Cadillac Lounge, lead singer Julie Adams’ powerful yet soulful voice is refreshing in an indie scene that can become somewhat repetitive. The highlight of their set was undoubtedly their first single “Skeletons,” which features some great work from guitarist Michael James. Its groove and pace had the entire crowd moving. Their self-titled debut album will be released April 11th:
Calgary natives Double Fuzz kept the crowd at the Cadillac Lounge rocking. As a two-piece band, Double Fuzz is often compared to The White Stripes and The Black Keys. With their explosive sound, I feel they deserve such bold comparisons. Jonny Whitehead’s heavy guitar riffs and powerful voice give Double Fuzz the raw emotion of early grunge, forcing their sound on everyone within two blocks of the venue. They hooked the crowd right away with “Mountain,” which showcased drummer Roland Lowson doing Christopher Walken and the SNL cast proud with his energetic use of the cowbell. The entire crowd was moving for Double Fuzz’s hit “Big City Lights,” which tore the place apart with intense distortion and Whitehead’s wailing voice. For only two guys, Double Fuzz has a bigger sound than most of the bands that played CMF:
Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker
One of the most unique bands in the concert scene right now, Toronto natives USS brought that sound to Rivoli for CMF. Combining the simplicity of traditional guitar and raspy vocals with the modern touch of electronic mixing and scratching, the band creates a futuristic sound that explodes with energy. Over the last two years, I’ve had tickets to no less than three USS shows, but a series of tragic (yet avoidable) occurrences has made me miss out on every single one of them, and I will never forgive myself for missing out on such live brilliance.
When it was announced that USS would be the special guest on Friday night at the Rivoli, I promised myself I would be there. The 200 person capacity was full long before the show began, with people lined up before doors opened. This brings up another great thing about CMF: one of the best places to meet people is in line for your favourite band. Everyone is there for the same reason, and most are ready to have a good time.
By the time the band came on, the crowd was electric. A series of excellent opening bands (including Ben Caplan) had built the crowd up to a level of intensity that was one of the highlights of the entire week. The few people lucky enough to get in to the venue witnessed one hell of a show. USS played all of their hits, with the entire crowd singing along to “Hollowpoint Sniper Hyperbole,” “Damini,” and “N/A OK.” The highlight of the show came when Ash broke out into “Hakuna Matata,” sparking one of the most magical crowd sing-a-longs I’ve ever witnessed. USS capped the night by bringing the front row up on stage before playing an intense cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” once again thrusting the crowd into an uproar. It’s always a privilege to see an established band at a small venue such as the Rivoli, and this was no exception. I won’t be missing another USS show anytime soon.
This was a perfect example of how awesome the last show of the night can be, especially with one of the best party bands in the city. Backing the release of their newest EP Great Energy, Toronto natives Brews Willis played the late show at Sneaky Dee’s. The band went on at 2 AM, so the remaining drunken crowd was ready to keep the party going, and Brews did not disappoint. Playing the punk-surf style music that makes them so unique, the crowd jived along with the band, who always appear to be having as much fun as anyone else in the building. The highlight of the set was the band’s first single “Ride the Island Baby” from their debut album Nerped By a Zircon. Check out the video here:
Overall, CMF was a great experience. The dates have already been announced for 2014 and the week has been moved from March to May. Besides removing the Canadian experience of freezing our asses off while waiting in line between shows, this seems like an improvement for any diehard festival fan. Wristbands for unlimited access to all six days of Music Fest were only $60 this year, and just $25 during the early bird sale. No plane tickets. No hotel rooms. No excuse to miss out on this incredible week of uniquely Canadian music and culture.
This was my second year visiting Austin for SXSW. Last year, I was given a wristband by the festival. I had it all planned out, previewing and interviewing a bunch of bands beforehand, I had a hostel booking, a printout map, American currency, the works. I packed 2 sets of shorts despite my hatred for shorts, sunscreen despite my sunburn-proof dark skin, hell, I might as well have packed a fanny pack.
This year was different. Having become so busy with school, it was very much a last minute decision to decide to go to SXSW again. As I met some great folks out there last year, I found myself with the opportunity to crash on a couch, wristbandless and badgeless. I took it.
When I have to describe SXSW to someone who has never been, I struggle. That may sound ridiculous considering I’ve been attempting to write about my music experiences here for 5 years now, but it’s true. What I (and Pitchfork and SPIN or every other blog/magazine that goes out there) would try to describe is its awesomeness, its scale, the cool bands we saw, the interesting crowds, and how the city is so cool and non-stereotypically Texan. There’s the other side too, complaining about how it’s not as good as it used to be, how the lines are too long, how they didn’t get to see the band they wanted (getting to a small venue Flaming Lips show 1 hour before with a badge does NOT guarantee entry, much to surprise), etc.
My suggestion would be: Go.
Book a flight now if you have to.
You don’t need to know anyone. You don’t need to have anything but a little bit of foresight and the ability to go with the flow. If I knew it last year, I wouldn’t have even bothered with a wristband. You can RSVP to the bigger shows of the year (names like Fader Fort, Hype Hotel, Spin at Stubb’s were some I loved this year) but outside of that, all you need to do is get there and find a place to sleep.
It’s everything and anything. It’s an entire city swallowed by the sound of any type of music you can imagine. If you took Bourbon Street and replaced “Jazz” with “everything”, you’d have Sixth Street. If you replaced the bulls in Pamplona with indie kids and hip hop heads, you’d have most of Austin in its chaotic evenings. It’s new bands hoping and dreaming to be seen and noticed. It’s well-established bands suddenly coming together to play again. It’s food trucks, everywhere. It’s walking into a place, being given free food and drink, striking up a conversation and having a blast. Every single day.
Few friends in Toronto really know about SXSW. They know about Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Osheaga, etc. The magnitude of SXSW is so much greater than those other festivals. It’s one thing being at an all day festival behind 50,000 people while a band plays a sound that isn’t suited to an outdoor venue. It’s another to be able to go door-to-door and hear perfection.
With that off my chest, I hope you’ve booked your ticket to SXSW 2014. If anyone tells you something other than what I said, it’s because they didn’t plan enough, they planned too much, or they want to keep it to themselves because they’re still pissed off at what happened to Kings Of Leon.
Here are some of the best bands I remember hearing at the festival:
Absolutely gorgeous, phenomenal voice, great dance moves, basically the total package. She blew me away. It won’t be long before she’s the queen of R&B. Sample.
As hard as I tried to write them off based on their name, their brand of indie-punk brought me back to the first time I heard Titus Andronicus (edit: I just found out that they’ve toured together and that Titus is a big fan of their music, what a coincidence!). So much raw potential, energy, and skill. The recordings capture about a fifth of their live energy. Sample.
An Australian friend told me about Flume a few months ago and I’m glad he did. This producer’s brand of electronic hip hop inspired instrumentals got the crowd in a frenzy and made them all into instant fans. Sample.
What can I say about this dude besides the fact that he’s the best rapper hands down in hip hop right now?
Here he is during Spin @ Stubb’s:
An incredible pleasure to see them at a house party near UT campus but such is the craziness of SXSW. Met the singer beforehand and talked about how their big hit “Best of Friends” was actually initially written by the band as their “shitty song” and they called it that until coming up with a proper name for it. Seeing as how I’m already loving Diarrhea Planet, I guess my music taste has turned to shit. Here it is. Decide for yourself. I’m sorry for the pun.
I saw these guys at the exact same venue last year (The Mohawk) and was literally the only person dancing in a crowd of 200. This year, they received the moshpit they deserved. Their age and noticeable improvement has me excited for their future. One refrain that stuck out from last year was “I thought I would be more than this.” and as they sung it this year, it seemed like much taller an order. But I believe it. Sample.
One of the best bands in indie right now. Did not disappoint. Sample.
Sort of like Elie Goulding meets Grimes. Except their few official recordings lean more towards the poppy side. I would stay tuned to them. Sample.
There’s more but who cares. You’re still reading and that makes me think you haven’t loaded up how much a flight to Austin costs in March 2014. <Everest Guy:> Just go already, you’re just sitting there reading about a music festival, get out of your computer chair, MAN! </Everest Guy>.
Shout outs to Sidecar for helping me get around the festival for free. Riff Raff for being as bad as I thought he’d be. East Side King for living up to all expectations. And most importantly my awesome hosts, Stephen, Patrick/Katie and their crew at Lucid Routes, and every single person I met in Austin for not changing my perception of the place one bit.
On November 24th, The Walkervilles showcased their groovy Windsor, Ontario blues-rock sound to a crowd at The Drake Hotel, one of the best sounding venues in Toronto. Watching them perform their set, it was obvious that the band was having a great time and their enthusiasm was contagious. The entire crowd stomped along through the short set featuring soulful vocals and guitar rhythms. The band demonstrated a clean, raw sound that is increasingly rare these days.
Playing songs from their upcoming album, The Walkervilles opened the set with the lively “Misunderstandings (Holding You)”, before they rocked through crowd favourites “Get Myself Into It” and “Get By.” Their classic Motown-inspired sound had the crowd captivated for the majority of their set. They closed with the buoyant “Tell Me How You Want Me,” which was a great display of singer Pat Robitaille’s vocal talent. Their debut album Meet The Walkervilles – Live at Mackenzie Hall comes out Dec. 21st. We got a chance to speak to Robitaille after the show:
For those who don’t know, who are The Walkervilles?
The Walkervilles are a three piece Motown/Rock/Soul influenced band from Windsor, Ontario; right across from Motown itself, Detroit, Michigan.
It really seems like rock and blues are getting more attention as mainstream music. What do you think about that?
We love it. It’s America’s music. The foundation of popular music as we know it is built on traditional blues. It’s nice to see the mainstream pushing real, raw music again.
The band hasn’t been around long, but you guys already have quite a following. Where do you think that comes from?
I think that there’s a classic but fresh sound to the Motown sound, and that has helped us appeal to so many listeners. It’s the kind of music that any generation can relate to and enjoy. Lyrically, the songs have been striking a big chord with people too. The music is real, it’s honest and it’s fun. The three of us are having a blast playing together and the crowd picks up on that as well.
How do you guys feel about the music community in Windsor, and Ontario in general?
The Windsor/Detroit area has been hit so hard by this recession and I think that where you have struggle, you have great art. Some of my favourite artists in Canada are from Windsor. The music community is very cool, all of the bands rely on one another, and The Walkervilles have certainly been heavily supported by the scene.
I know you guys have quite a few projects on the go. How do you balance and prioritize each of your projects, and find time to collaborate together?
The band has really shifted over the past few months to a full time gig for us. We do have a lot on the go, and we’ve all had some good success with our other projects, but we have a clear focus on this band now. I’m sure when things slow down for Walkervilles we will pick up where we left off on old endeavours, but this band is exciting for us right now.
Do you have any plans for releasing your first album?
Our first album is coming out on December 21st. The band rented out an old court house in Windsor called Mackenzie Hall back in September. We basically built a recording studio in the building the night before and recorded 10 songs in one day. Everything was done live so the album has a heavy concert vibe. It’s called “Meet The Walkervilles – Live at Mackenzie Hall”.
With the current state of the music industry, what advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Stay real! Focus on getting as good as you can. Don’t spend time online trying to convince people to like your band. Just play nonstop and it will all work out.
If you guys could be opening for any band right now, who would it be?
From the start, the night at El Mocambo was focused on an exceptional group of singers and their vocal abilities. Playing for a packed house, Neverending White Lights played an exciting set, both musically and visually. Entering to a dazzling light show, Daniel Victor and company kept pace all night as they played through a set full of fan-favourites including “The Grace” and “Always.” There were also great harmonies between Victor and Bed of Stars singer Evan Konrad, as demonstrated during “Falling Apart.” These two guys can sing and their voices perfectly complement each other.
Toronto Indie band Mr. And Mrs. Fox opened the night. Playing for a hometown crowd, they graced the audience with a set full of harmonies and on-stage charisma. Their set was followed by local band Lyon, fronted by the exceptionally talented Lauren Emily Malyon. The showcase of her vocal prowess, accompanied by her electric violin playing, was one of the highlights of night.
Before joining Neverending White Lights on stage, Evan Konrad played an unplugged set of his own, focusing on just his voice and acoustic guitar. Konrad took requests of songs from his impressive repertoire with Bed of Stars and also played several new tracks.
The creativity of Neverending White Lights was prominent in their show, demonstrated by the dramatic light show and stage effects, soulful guitar solos, and the harmonies between Victor and Konrad. Their driving rhythms really got the crowd moving. For a mid-week concert, the atmosphere was incredible. Seeing such a group of musicians in a bar setting seemed a privilege, as the show demonstrated talent, creativity, and composure that could be headlining arena concerts.