CMW Night 1: The Strumbellas, The Reason, Krief, Young Empires & More

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Paint – 8:00PM @ The Painted Lady

My Wednesday night began at the Painted Lady for Toronto pop-rock band Paint. Led by Rob Johannes’ pretty vocals and featuring a touring drummer and new bassist and guitarist since last I’ve seen them, the overhauled band played a set from their latest release Where We Are Today, intro-ing with a cover of Pulp’s “Common People.”

While the venue was still pretty sparse at this hour, this didn’t affect their level of performance. Intensely dynamic frontman Johannes worked the crowd and had the early arrivers quickly clapping along. Juxtaposed with their powerpop hooks, there is a darker edge to many of their songs, including the slow and sorrowful “A Gentle Art,” which is about slaughtering someone’s heart, and “Home,” which captures the feeling of a band constantly on tour. It’s the live performance of these that adds a greater depth to the band and breaks them out of the mold of being just another pretty pop band. They ended with a slowed down version of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” that was mesmerizing and quite lovely. | CD

The Strumbellas – 9:00PM @ The Garrison (New Noise Live Showcase)

From the Painted Lady, I headed around the corner to The Garrison to catch The Strumbellas as I had sadly missed their CD release party for My Father and the Hunter last month. A unique 7-piece alt-country folk outfit with rural roots, but based in the city, their lyrics may be country-inspired, and there may be a violin, but there is nary a twang to be found. With “no time to talk! Just rock!” the band delighted the ever-growing crowd with their upbeat danceable tunes, driven by the power of the violin, keys and vocal harmonies.

While songs such as “I Just Had A Baby” and “Rhinestone” are saturated with light-hearted pluckiness, with morbidly soulful lyrics such as “I believe in death because death has always won the last hand,” “The Bird That Follows Me” has the dark quality of a country-infused Emily Dickinson poem. Single “The Sheriff” was the song everyone was waiting for and led to an overly raucous sing-along. | CD

Air Marshal Landing – 9:30PM @ The Sister

From The Garrison I raced over to The Sister. With no streetcar in sight, I ended up running most of the way, making it in time to catch the last half of Air Marshal Landing’s set. A three-piece out of Uxbridge, Ontario, AML is quirky, rocky yet danceable, and just a lot of fun to listen to. Bassist/Singer Matt Simmonds has one of the most interesting voices that I’ve come across in recent memory, even taking on a Vampire Weekend-esque sound at times.

Their funky sound and the harmonic vocals of Simmonds and guitarist Cory Adrian encouraged the audience to sing and clap along. The band was really into crowd participation, and the audience seemed only too happy to oblige. It was definitely difficult to keep from at least tapping your feet. While they encountered some feedback, breaking up the sound, they powered through it and drummer Graham Drummond was able to take care of it. Proving himself to be even more multi-talented, Drummond then played guitar. With his brushes.

With a new album on the way, I’m predicting big things to come from this unit in the next little while, and I’ll be sure to catch their full set next time they are in town. | CD

Sound of Lions – 10:00PM @ The Piston

I started off my CMW with Sound of Lions at the tiny Piston. As I arrived, Zoo Legacy was nearing the end of their set and there was a great energy in the air, setting the tone for a great set by the Ottawa 5-piece. The band released 11:44 in September 2011, a debut of sorts as the band made the jump from a trip-hop duo to a fuller sound with addition of guitar, bass and drums, while still maintaining that trip-hop sound.

It is Whitney Delion’s soulful vocals that reels an audience in, but she is not alone in vocal contributions. Christian Awad is predominantly on keys and sampling, but when he does spit out rhymes, he’s a force to reckon with, so much so that members of the audience were cheering him on. And then there’s Will Assaad, whose great vocals go underrated next to Delion’s, plus he brings such passion and energy on guitar. Watch and listen to him more carefully when you see them live, particularly on “Bad Games,” and you’ll understand that he brings something quite special to the table too.

Having seen these trip-hoppers before, I was glad to see that this young band continues to get tighter. It was a great way to start my CMW experience. | CL

CMW: Sound of Lions @ The Piston, 21-03-12 CMW: Sound of Lions @ The Piston, 21-03-12 CMW: Sound of Lions @ The Piston, 21-03-12 CMW: Sound of Lions @ The Piston, 21-03-12 CMW: Sound of Lions @ The Piston, 21-03-12

Krief – 10:30PM @ The Great Hall (Pirates Blend Showcase)

Krief is the solo project of The Dears’ guitarist Patrick Krief. Having fallen hard for the gorgeously arranged single “Simple Lives” off his soon to be released album Hundred Thousand Pieces, it was with eager anticipation that I headed back east down Queen St. to The Great Hall for the Pirates Blend showcase.

While Krief performed almost all of the instruments on the record, he performs live backed by a full band, taking the sound from more of an ornate instrumental to electro-rock with so much soul. While still just as technically intricate, there was a fuller sound with the added layer of shredding guitars and drums that could be felt in the innermost core of your bones. Patrick Krief is the real deal.

Ordinarily I would have been shaking my head in disbelief at the mention that this was their first time playing together as a full unit, so substantial was the chemistry between all members. However, with the depth of experience residing in the band, it made it slightly more plausible.

Hundred Thousand Pieces is set to drop April 17th on Pirates Blend Records and it’s one that should be added to each and every music collection. | CD

Young Empires – 11:30PM @ The Great Hall (Pirates Blend Showcase)

Toronto 4-piece Young Empires were up next. Starting with “Rain of Gold,” they lit the basement of The Great Hall on fire with the globally-inspired electro-infused dance tunes off their record Wake All My Youth. Never knowing how this type of music will translate live, I was immediately enamored with their dazzling charisma, pulsing beats and non-stop dance moves. The lights dimmed for a slow song that was rhythmic and demanding of your full attention, before launching right back into high-powered “White Doves” that had the mic passed off to friends in the crowd to join in on the “oh-oh’s.”

This is a band that transcends the typical stone barriers, bringing indie music lovers together with the popped collar “bro” crowd of the club scene. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed so many guys getting down at a show before. It was absolutely impossible to stand still. | CD

The Reason – 11:00PM @ Lee’s Palace

Stop number two on CMW night one for me was Lee’s Palace to see The Reason. The venue was a bit slow that night, but I suppose that was to be expected since it was the first night of the festival and most people were probably saving their energy for a big festival weekend. Those who skipped the night out missed out on a great set by Hamilton’s bearded rock ‘n’ rollers.

While the crowd was, for the most part, rather relaxed, the band’s energy was high. With long hair swinging around everywhere and frontman Adam White’s honest stage banter, it was impossible not to enjoy the set. Some highlights include a cover of Weezer’s “Tired of Sex” and the “Rebellion (Lies)” interlude squeezed into “Come & Go”. But a particular favourite was “Dogs”, a song off Fools that has apparently been frequently requested but that the band hadn’t played live before. The band also played a couple new songs, giving the fans present plenty to look forward to.

Having been around for nearly a decade, The Reason shows no signs of stopping any time soon. And rightly so because they’re consistently great performers that write great rock songs. | CL

CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12
CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: The Reason @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12

Gentlemen Hall – 12:00AM @ Lee’s Palace

I stuck around at Lee’s Palace to see Gentlemen Hall, a band that I knew next to nothing about. However, this is probably the best part of festivals – discovering new bands. I’ll admit that, at first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this 6-piece synth pop rock band from Boston. With an eclectic sound that boasts a flute and dramatic vocals from 2 vocalists (Gavin Merlot, Cobi Mike) that exchanged time on lead, alongside guitars and synths, the band may catch you off guard at first.

But as the set continued on, the songs seemed to get catchier and the set got stronger. In particular, their single “All Our Love” is a big sing-a-long song that stood out in the set. Plus it also helps that the band covered Metric’s “Help I’m Alive” to grab my attention. Unfortunately, the venue had cleared out for the most part by the time they hit the stage. There were only a handful of people to catch the set and those that stuck around remained seated, leaving the dance floor entirely empty, which is a shame because these are totally danceable songs. Despite the lame turn out, the band played as if they were playing to a packed house, which speaks volumes. I cannot emphasize enough how much this impressed me.

After winning Billboard’s Battle of the Bands last year, Gentlemen Hall has garnered quite the buzz in their neck of the woods. The band released an EP, When We All Disappear, in September 2011, which you can stream on their site or download for free. | CL

CMW: Gentlemen Hall @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: Gentlemen Hall @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: Gentlemen Hall @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: Gentlemen Hall @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: Gentlemen Hall @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: Gentlemen Hall @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12 CMW: Gentlemen Hall @ Lee's Palace, 21-03-12

Sun Wizard – 12:00AM @ Hard Luck

From Vancouver, BC, Sun Wizard plays classic indie rock and roll that is a little bit dirty, but still incredibly infectious. I walked in as their set was winding down, and while it may have been the length of their hair that first caught my attention, it was the combination of spritely grunge pop that held it. | CD

Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs – 1:00AM @ Hard Luck

From Waterloo/Toronto, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs play what can only be described as “country punk.” With hilariously self-deprecating lyrics, the songs are short, loud and to the point. This is a band that knows how to have a good time on stage. Garbed out in boy-scout gear, the guitarist had some of the craziest facial expressions, adding yet another element of fun to their set. While the vocals are screamy at times, those on single “All To Myself” give it a classic old school garage rock feel.

The set turned into one big flannel-clad brofest, with the late-night crowd screaming and dancing along, worshipping the band with a “we’re not worthy” à la Wayne’s World, and even leaping up on stage to sing along. It was a thoroughly entertaining set to end the night. | CD

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Categories: Canadian Music Week 2012, Live Music


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