Thursday, March 22, 2012

Joel Plaskett and Michael Rault get Canadian Music Fest off to a flying start

There wasn't a lot of quantity in what I took in on the opening night of Canadian Music Fest, but there was a metric tonne of quality.

Joel Plaskett Emergency played the opening night party in the Horizons Lounge in the CN Tower, 346 metres above the ground, and his 10-song set took us even higher. Plaskett's Scrappy Happiness comes out March 27, so he showcased a few tunes from it along with some should-have-been hits from his catalogue along with drummer Dave Marsh and bassist Chris Pennell.

Plaskett jumped right into the new material with "You're Mine," which name-checks and praises Husker Du, and followed it with one of the top tracks from 2009's Three, "Deny, Deny, Deny." Another new one, "North Star," showed that Plaskett hasn't lost his knack for literate and eminently listenable songs with clever phrases.

Plaskett returned to 2007's Ashtray Rock and "Snowed In," and the irony didn't escape the artist considering the record-breaking high March temperatures Toronto has experienced this week. "Nothing More To Say" from the same album continued the roll the band was on before Frost and Pennell took a break while Plaskett played new song "Harbour Boys" solo on 12-string acoustic guitar.

The rhythm section returned for Scrappy Happiness opener "Lightning Bolt," which featured some fuzzed-out guitar and Plaskett getting more animated than I've seen him for quite a while. That manic energy continued through "Work Out Fine" and what was supposed to be his final number, "Nowhere With You." That one got the primarily music industry member crowd so riled up, however, that it demanded an encore. Plaskett didn't disappoint and delivered a killer "Come On Teacher," which earned a well-earned rousing round of claps and hollers as the group left the stage.

I look forward to seeing Plaskett again when he returns to Toronto for two nights in May as part of his cross-country tour with Frank Turner. That's a double bill you won't want to miss if it rolls through your city.

I returned home to drop off my car and take care of a few things before venturing a few blocks west to the basement of The Great Hall for a 9:30 set by Michael Rault, an Edmontonian who now lives in Toronto but doesn't perform locally as much as I'd like him to.
Michael Rault

Rault's Ma-Me-O debut album came out of nowhere to finish at #7 on my favourite albums of 2010 list, but I'd never seen him until tonight. The album is full of great hooks, '60s-influenced pop and garage rock that's uncomplicated but engrossing. I'm happy to report that the singer/guitarist's performance -- augmented by a rhythm section and a female tambourine player and backing singer who was largely inaudible -- bears those same qualities.

Like Ma-Me-O, the set opened with "Let Me Go Out" and "The Things You Said," which drew some impressive dancefloor action. Other favourites from the album included "Call Me On The Phone," "You Can Leave If You Want To" and "She'll Cut You Down." Also like Ma-Me-0, the 30-minute set left me wanting to hear more.

Hopefully Rault's association with the Pirates Blend label and management team and the Paquin Entertainment booking agency can raise his profile because I'm convinced that others will fall for his charms just like I have.

It was just 10 p.m. and there was lots of music left to be heard, but I'm still recovering from a hectic South By Southwest Music Festival and just returned home from Texas on Tuesday evening and immediately returned to the 9 to 5 world. I also knew that it wouldn't be possible to hear anything better than Plaskett and Rault, so I called it a night and went home to catch up on a few things that had been neglected during my 10 days in Texas.

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