Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Arcade Fire deserved the 2011 Polaris Music Prize

The 2011 Polaris Music Prize grand jury made the right choice in awarding a $30,000 cheque to Arcade Fire and naming The Suburbs the best Canadian album of the year on Monday night.

I was one of the 200-or-so jurors who helped select the short list of 10 albums, but my role wasn't really that large. I hear that I was one of just three Polaris voters not to have any of the five choices marked on the initial ballot make the long list of 40 contenders. But two of my choices from those 40 made the final 10, led by The Suburbs.

It was fourth on my ballot but had a clear lead over my fifth and last choice, Ron Sexsmith's Long Player Late Boomer. Timber Timbre's Creep On Creepin' On was probably my third  pick, even though I didn't vote for it.

Monday's show, held at Toronto's Concert Hall in the Masonic Temple and hosted by CBC Radio 3's Grant Lawrence and MuchMusic's Damian Abraham (who won the Polaris two years ago as the lead singer for Fucked Up), featured performances from six of the 10 finalists.

Sexsmith was first up and impressed with a great mid-tempo pop song, "Believe It When I See It," before finishing with "Everytime I Follow."

Austra's performance was dramatic and theatrical, but the whole thing was too precious for my tastes.

The first impression I got of Montreal rock band Galaxie was that it reminded me a bit of a francophone Big Sugar. Singer/guitarist Olivier Langevin is a very good player, and his riffing made Galaxie the hardest rocking outfit of the night.

Timber Timbre may have received the biggest audience response for its two songs, and deservingly so. The trio was fleshed out with a small string section, and the combination of singer/guitarist Taylor Kirk's deep voice and the dark and foreboding music coming from him and his bandmates during "Bad Ritual/Obelisk" and the album's title track had me thinking about Nick Cave.

Braids' Native Speaker was a favourite on Canadian campus radio, and I can see why, but the group's dependence on effects and singer/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston's sometimes high-pitched voice failed to hold me in thrall.

I appreciate Hey Rosetta!, but I'm not as committed to the St. John's, Nfld. group as others I know. Still, the band's performance of "Bricks" and "Yer Spring" ended the performances on solid ground.

Destroyer, The Weeknd, Colin Stetson and Arcade Fire didn't perform, but the Polaris-winning combo's Win Butler, Jeremy Gara and Richard Reed Parry flew in after headlining the Austin City Limits Festival the night before to accept the accolades and their large novelty cheque.

With only six of 10 acts playing, I can't understand why the show stretched out beyond three hours. And the long waits between action on the stage were made worse for those of us in the balcony, as the pads that were there in past years were nowhere to be found and sitting on cold concrete for that long doesn't really equate with the word gala.

But, unlike in past years when there were heated discussions on the merits of the winner at the post-gala party at The Drake Hotel, most people seemed satisfied with The Suburbs taking the prize. And that's the way it should have been.


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