Sunday, March 25, 2012

Three great bands made me happy on CMF's Saturday

Saturday's Canadian Music Fest began for me when I arrived at the El Mocambo for the Aussie BBQ at 4 p.m., which gave me just enough time to eat a free sausage on white bread with barbecue sauce and caramelized onions before Oh Mercy began playing a few minutes later.
Oh Mercy

The first song reminded me of a cross between Wilco and Velvet Underground, and the band didn't top it during the rest of its 25-minute set. The lead singer is a lefty who plays a right-handed guitar upside down and has a good vocal range, and the rest of the band plays guitar-driven but rhythmic indie rock. It was okay.

I went upstairs to hear a couple of songs from Melbourne duo Big Scary, but it didn't do much for me either so I returned downstairs for DZ Deathrays. The Melbourne guitar and drums duo was noisy and not particularly entertaining, so I left.

The Screwed was playing three sets of classic punk rock covers at Graffiti's, but unfortunately the band was taking a break when I dropped in, so I carried on to the Music Nova Scotia party at The Rivoli.

I talked to some people who I probably haven't spoken to since this party last year and had two bowls of delicious chowder and some sauteed scallops before singer/songwriter Mo Kenney began her solo acoustic set. Joel Plaskett is producing her upcoming record and she has talents as both a singer and a whistler, but I preferred her final number -- a cover of David Bowie's "Five Years" -- over her originals.

Ben Caplan, a bushy bearded artist with a deep voice and delivery that was occasionally reminiscent of Tom Waits, delivered a solo acoustic performance and engaging between-song banter. I most enjoyed his final song, "Stranger," which had an eastern European folk element.

I'd never heard of Ria Mae, but she played a hollow body electric guitar and had another woman named Margot singing back-up and showed me a lot of talent. She writes depressing songs, but displayed a good sense of humour and humility between them and after her set when I spoke to her at the bar.

Jon Janes is The Mountains & The Trees, and the Newfoundland native who now lives in Nova Scotia sang and played electric guitar -- most impressively when he used a bow on his final song.
Mike O'Neill

Former Inbreds member Mike O'Neill took the stage on his own with an electric guitar at 8 p.m. and played a longer set, which included my favourite Inbreds song, "Any Sense of Time." He also performed material from his new solo album, Wild Lines, including "Don't Forget To Breathe," and older songs like "Camera Shy." He also performed "Andy," which Neko Case covered on her 2001 Canadian Amp EP. O'Neill writes good songs.

Ron Sexsmith, Damhnait Doyle, The Pursuit of Happiness' Moe Berg and Sloan's Chris Murphy and Patrick Pentland were among the non-performing performers at the party over the almost four hours that I was there. Murphy was standing behind me during O'Neill's set and, when he saw me taking notes, he suggested including "Lose the moustache" in my review.
Chains of Love

It was time to head a wee bit west from The Rivoli for the Horseshoe and the band I was most looking forward to: Chains of Love. The Vancouver sextet is fronted by Nathalia Pizzaro and singer/guitarist Rebecca Marie Law Gray, and they both downed a shot before beginning their impressive set. If you took a Phil Spector-produced '60s girl group and a band from the Nuggets compilations of garage rock from that era and then added a dose of soul, you'd get Chains of Love. But you don't have to, since Chains of Love already and thankfully exists. In addition to loving their music, Pizzaro and Law Gray seem like the kind of women that would be fun to party with, so I hope they return to Toronto soon.
Katalina Kicks

I'd never been to Underground Garage before, and was surprised to find that I had to go up stairs to get there. England's Katalina Kicks was supposed to start at 9:45 p.m., so I thought I'd catch its last few songs, but things were delayed until 10:10, which allowed me to order a Strongbow for myself and a friend who asked to remain nameless but had previously seen the band in its homeland and liked it.

The trio is equally influenced by '60s rock by The Who and The Kinks, '70s punk and 21st century alternative rock. It also has a Strummerville connection, which further piqued my interest. I liked it, but it seems to be missing something that would take it to the next level.

The rain and wind had let up a bit so I decided to take a bit of a hike to C'est What, where I figured I could find a seat, enjoy a few pints of craft beer (which I hadn't had all festival, unless you count the Blanche de Chambly at The Hideout on Friday night) and hear some good music.
French Wives

I'd seen the last two songs of Scottish band French Wives at the Easy Tiger Patio in Austin, Texas during last week's South By Southwest Music Festival, and liked them enough to see a full set. I wasn't disappointed. The single "Numbers" ranks among the best songs I've heard this year, with Siobhan Anderson's violin adding an element of class to the indie pop number and singer/guitarist Stuart Dougan's understandable lyric delivery which belies his Glaswegian roots. It went down well with a Granite Hopping Mad from the cask.

The excellent set also included "Halloween," which was a hit in the group's homeland three years ago, "Sleep Tight," and the closing number, "Younger."  There's an epic quality to the music, but it stays away from the pretension that can creep into the repertoire of lesser acts who aspire to have that word used in concert with its work. French Wives' debut album, Dream of the In Between, is scheduled to be released in May.

I ordered a cask-conditioned 8.5-per-cent alcohol Wellington Imperial Stout, and I enjoyed the nutty chocolate flavour and the punch it packed as I sat down at a table in front of the stage while Nash set up.

I wrote the bio for Nash and his debut solo album, The Death of Reason, last year. But I'd only spoken to the multi-talented artist via phone and email and had never seen him perform, so I introduced myself before the set. Nash has a colourful history and he sang, played bass, guitar, keyboards, programming, omnichord and glockenspiel -— pretty much everything but drums —- on The Death of Reason, which he also recorded, engineered and produced. He played both guitar and keyboards for this performance and the backing by another keyboardist and guitarist, along with bass and drums, added a more muscular quality to the pop music that wasn't as evident on the record.

I appreciated the rawness of "Broken Down Satellites," "Sad Robot Harmonies" was excellent, a trumpet came out for "In a State of Mind" and the set ended with "Suit Up." I'm always pleased when people I work with and like turn out to be even better than I originally expected when I entered the relationship, and Nash certainly proved himself with this performance.

I headed back out into the elements and ducked my head into the Horseshoe to say hello to a few friends before moving on for The Stanfields' 2 a.m. set at The Hideout. I've become a big fan of this Halifax Celtic rock group over the past few years and was happy to see that the place was packed and people were dancing in front of the stage. Band manager Ian McKinnon, who I'd spoken to at the Music Nova Scotia party earlier in the evening, was also pleased by the raucous performance and the rabid response.

The Stanfields have started recording a new album that I'm looking forward to. But in the meantime, I recommend you see the band and listen to its Vanguard of the Young and Reckless debut album.


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