Thursday, May 17, 2018

The best of 2018’s Canadian Music Week Festival

The artists I saw at my 28th Canadian Music Week Festival didn’t appeal to me as much as those of the past two, but the occasion still gave me a better than normal excuse to spend six consecutive late nights (and early mornings) in bars spending time (and too much money) with more than two dozen acts.

Here were my 10 favourites:

1. Sloan
Saturday, 9:45 p.m. at Yonge-Dundas Square

The Halifax-formed, Toronto-based quartet released its appropriately titled 12th album, 12, earlier this year. This set featured a fair sampling from it, which was fine because it’s a good one. Even better, however, was the inclusion of such older favourites as “Spin Our Wheels,” “The Good In Everyone,” “Who Taught You To Live Like That?,” “The Other Man,” “Live On,” “People of the Sky,” “The Rest of My Life,” “If It Feels Good Do It” and “Underwhelmed.”


Friday, 10 p.m. at Horseshoe

This Toronto group’s self-titled 2016 debut full-length was my fifth favourite album of 2016, and this set featured a handful of songs from it, including “Mid 20’s Skateboarder” and a closing “Asshole Pandemic.” There was also a cover of The Equals’ “Police On My Back.” PKEW PKEW PKEW may be my favourite young Canadian punk band right now.

Mad Caddies

3. Mad Caddies
Tuesday, 10 p.m. at Mod Club

This Solvang, Calif. band has been around for more than 20 years, playing a mix of ska and punk with dashes of reggae, rock, polka and more. The packed house of revelers was singing and dancing throughout the set, which was fun from start to finish.

July Talk

4. July Talk
Thursday, Midnight at Horseshoe

I’d seen frontpeople Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay at this same venue a couple of weeks earlier at a celebration of the life of the late Stuart Joliffe, and was glad to be seeing them with the full band under happier circumstances. They didn’t disappoint with this energetic and genuinely soulful set which was kept secret until earlier in the day.


5. Starcrawler
Friday, Midnight at Bovine Sex Club
Saturday, 8 p.m. at Yonge-Dundas Square

This very young Los Angeles band was the only one I saw twice during the festival. Its heroin chic punk meets grunge sound and aesthetic were much more appropriate for a late show at the Bovine than an early open-air show in which lead singer Arrow de Wilde showed both on-your-knees microphone fellatio and stage-climbing skills. She’s simultaneously mesmerizing and disturbing, but the band has some songs and guitarist Henri Cash showed at Y-D Square that he has some star quality of his own. Hole fans may appreciate this act.

Brett Newski

6. Brett Newski
Thursday, 10 p.m. at The Cameron House

This engaging Milwaukee, Wisc. artist used effects to give his acoustic guitar, foot pad percussion and voice a fuller sound than you’d expect through his set, which featured humour both in his songs and the banter in between them. He acknowledged his hometown with a cover of Violent Femmes “Kiss Off” and amused Barenaked Ladies keyboardist Kevin Hearn (who was sitting beside me) by jokingly referring to the 2018 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees during the set. I already owned some of Newski’s material on iTunes but bought his The Worst of Brett Newski compact disc from him when we chatted post-show.

7. The Dreamboats
Friday, 1 a.m. at Horseshoe Tavern

This tuxedo-clad quartet was definitely the best-dressed group I saw during the festival and, while I was under the impression that it was primarily a cover band, it impressed with a set heavy on original ‘60s rock-and-roll-inspired songs. But a cover of The Swinging Blue Jeans’ “Hippy Hippy Shake,” a 45 that I played constantly as a five-year-old and still own today, put this over the top for me.

Thomas Thomas

8. Thomas Thomas
Wednesday, 9:45 p.m. at The Cavern Bar

I was as interested in checking out this new to me venue in the basement of a Church Street youth hostel as I was a couple of the acts playing there, but Calgary’s Thomas Thomas ensured that it was a win-win situation. The young indie pop band’s set was highlighted by “If I Was A Ghost” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Oh Darling.” The group sometimes reminded me of Hippo Campus.


9. Pony
Friday, 8:15 p.m. at Horseshoe Tavern

Singer/guitarist Sam Bielanski is the focal point of this chiming, punk-inflected indie pop quartet that comes across louder and crunchier on stage than through my computer. One of Bielanski’s goals is to inspire young girls to make their own music, but this old guy is just content to listen to hers.


10. Omni
Thursday, 1 a.m. at Horseshoe Tavern

This Atlanta, Ga. post-punk/new wave trio formed two years ago and seems to have a lot of potential for the future. A friend described the sound as King Crimson meets The Strokes. I definitely leaned more towards The Strokes and also heard elements of The Fall and Pylon in some of the material.

Honourable Mention
Friday, 2 a.m. at The Cameron House

This wasn’t an official Canadian Music Week Festival showcase so I won’t include it in the top 10, but it was certainly deserving. Ferraro’s Losing Sleep was my ninth favourite album of 2016 and, as much as I like that record's songs, I’m at least as entertained by Ferraro's occasional shows where it plays classic pop, rock-and-roll, doo-wop and Motown covers. This was one of those, and it included two sets to send me home a happy guy as 4 a.m. approached.