CMW Night 3: The Great Hall, Horseshoe Tavern & More

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Canadian Music Week 2013

Hunger Hush – 7pm @ The Central

Getting an early start to the night was Calgary’s Hunger Hush. A younger band comprised of Steve Wirzba (vocals, guitar), Alastair Pollock (keys, trumpet, vocals), Andrew Smale (bass) and Ben Tan (drums), their sweet-sounding indie rock and bubbly pop hooks provided a cheerful dancey soundtrack to all those still at the venue to dine at this hour.

While it was the reference to Shotgun Jimmie in super catchy “Hot & Cold Air” that made me initially want to check out this band, it was the feverish slides on the keys and heralding trumpet on “Bible Loves the Bullet” that elevated this track instead to the most memorable of their set. Keeping their sound from being too sugary-sweet, there was a little bit of a cowpoke feel to “The Prize,” showing where they come from. Similarly, their set closer described the Calgary music scene, and staying true to your roots even while watching those around you leave for somewhere else.

Having flown in for the festival they expressed their excitement for the opportunity to expose a new city to their music. They have a 3-song EP that you can check out on Bandcamp.

CMW: Hunger Hush @ The Central, 21-03-13 CMW: Hunger Hush @ The Central, 21-03-13 CMW: Hunger Hush @ The Central, 21-03-13 CMW: Hunger Hush @ The Central, 21-03-13

Andy Shauf – 8pm @ Free Times Cafe

In keeping with the Prairies, I next saw Regina’s Andy Shauf. A set I was highly anticipating after reviewing his 2012 album The Bearer of Bad News, I entered the already crowded back room at Free Times. Seated on the stage with his guitar, Shauf’s slightly lisped lustrous voice captivated the audience, as did his rich storytelling lyrics.

Increasing Shauf’s likeability was his awkwardly adorable stage banter. In between songs he continually asked if the audience had any questions, though he didn’t necessarily have answers when they wanted to know more about certain songs. Having been touring with Wake Owl playing drums as of lately, he expressed apologies that he was out of practice being the center of attention. This combination earned himself quite the round of applause upon the conclusion of his set. While Shauf mentioned that he might be backed by a full band for his CMW gig the next night, it was of no matter – just him, his guitar, and his voice were enough to hold the small room in rapt attention.

The Strumbellas – 9:20pm @ The Horseshoe Tavern

Moving on to The Horseshoe, I caught Lindsay/Toronto’s The Strumbellas. Having seen them for the first time at last year’s festival, the rambunctious alt-country six-piece have quickly elevated themselves to a band that I try to see every chance I get. Definitely not (at all) sober on stage, frontman Simon Ward was hilarious – his antics seem to become more and more extreme each time I see them, such as jokingly introducing the band as The Great Bloomers and attempting to sing through his guitar strap at one point.

A solid proportion of the band members barefoot, they were soon all stomping their feet to the brisk fiddle-infused melodies. While “Rhinestone” started simply, it soon exploded into one big party on stage, filled with raucous handclapping and full-group vocals shouting into the microphones. “Sailor’s Blues” came complete with a drunken sailor-worthy gang singalong. While the technical aspects of their set were riddled with sloppiness, they were somehow able to get away with it because really, that’s not what people are going to see them for anyway. Their set came to an abrupt end with “The Sheriff;” just as they were about to launch into one last tune, their sound was cut off, and staff announced that their too-short time was sadly already over.

Poor Young Things – 10:10pm @ The Horseshoe Tavern

Not originally intending to stay for Poor Young Things, I soon found myself rocking away with the rest of the packed venue to a setlist that previewed many new songs from their upcoming album. Over the past year, they’ve shed the remaining remnants of their Northern Ontario attire and frontman Matt Fratpietro and Co. have adopted some serious swagger on stage in their skinny jeans. They kicked things off with latest single “Sign of the Times.” While this track didn’t immediately win me over when I first heard it recorded, they made it a massive rock song live.

During “Blame It On the Good Times,” guitarist Dave Grant hopped down from the stage into the heart of the audience, as far as his guitar cord would allow. While drummer Konrad Commisso broke a snare towards the end of their set, this was quickly fixed in time for their last song. Lacking Jeff Heisholt of The Trews in attendance, instead Bumstead labelmates Tim and Koady Chaisson joined the band on stage for a cover of MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” Taking the synth-pop track and transforming it into a rock song that included the fiddle, It was nothing less than exactly that – electric.

I definitely don’t regret my decision. Showing some lyrical and sonic growth from last year’s EP, the band’s debut full-length is one to watch for this Spring – The Heart. The Head. The End. drops May 21.

PS I Love You – 11pm @ The Great Hall

The vast Great Hall was still relatively empty when I rushed over to catch Kingston duo PS I Love You. My first time seeing them live, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Paul Saulnier (vocals, guitar) and Benjamin Nelson (drums). They have always been a band that I’ve brushed aside, assuming their sound would be too loud for my tastes. I was only too happy to be proven wrong. What could have just been an onslaught of noise was in fact not this at all.

Backed by heavily distorted guitars and frantic drums, Saulnier’s vocals burst through his faceful of hair. While barely discernable at times, for once this wasn’t an issue for me. The lyrics weren’t really the point and it was plenty easy enough to become transfixed just on his expert thrashing guitar work. Their set came to a close with Saulnier playing guitar behind his head and making for an ending that can only be described as insane, especially coming from just two people.

Wildlife – 12am @ The Great Hall

Playing their first show since the release of album …On the Heart headliners Wildlife took the stage to an audience that had seemingly quadrupled in size over the short break between bands. The band’s lineup currently undergoing some transitions, Tim Daugulis (keys, percussion) had reduced his duties on stage, and they were joined by Writers’ Strike guitarist Darryl Smith, making for six people on stage at times. To match the cover art of the new album, their all-black uniform was now accented with yellow armbands rather than blue.

Their powerful synth-rock performance kicked off with drum-heavy single “Born To Ruin” before the memorable strums of the mandolin by Graham Plant indicated the start of “Stand in the Water.” Much of their set focusing on new material, they played “One For the Body” live for the first time, and the tinkling of the xylophone and emotional lyrics on “Don’t Fear” revealed a softer side frontman Dean Povinsky doesn’t often let show. The band seemed to gain energy as their set progressed, in spite of the massive amounts of sweat pouring out of them, and the swelling vocals on “Lightning Tent” sent them through the roof. Set closer “Killing For Fun” was just as epic as ever. The “oh-oh’s” grew out of, and built from the crowd, growing ever louder. The band recognized the magic of this moment and handed the mic over to them to fully take over. The song came to a rock-and-roll crashing finale, breaking the audience from the dream with Daugulis throwing the tom drum to the floor.

If you haven’t yet seen Toronto band Wildlife live, they are one you want to experience – again and again.

The Darcys (secret guest) – 1am @ The Great Hall

Special “secret” guests The Darcys were up next. The theatre-like atmosphere was fitting for their densely textured artistic rock. Alternating between guitar and keys, frontman Jason Couse took to the piano for “Shaking Down the Old Bones.” Such an enthralling, intense track, no matter how many times I hear him repeat the lyric “right heart, wrong time,” it never fails to grip me. To the delight of the audience, the band also previewed two new unreleased songs before ending with the tragic-feeling “Edmonton to Purgatory.”

At only seven songs, their set felt much too short and the crowd was left shouting out for more – but at least it did offer the audience a glimpse into what is to come from their upcoming and hotly anticipated third record. Different in style compared to the material we’ve come to know and love, the new songs may take a couple of listens to fully absorb but that doesn’t sound like much of a hardship to do. | CD

CMW: The Darcys @ The Great Hall, 21-03-13 CMW: The Darcys @ The Great Hall, 21-03-13 CMW: The Darcys @ The Great Hall, 21-03-13 CMW: The Darcys @ The Great Hall, 21-03-13 CMW: The Darcys @ The Great Hall, 21-03-13 CMW: The Darcys @ The Great Hall, 21-03-13 CMW: The Darcys @ The Great Hall, 21-03-13

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Categories: Canadian Music Week 2013, Live Music


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