Around this time last year, I was mostly ambivalent about Canadian music. That’s not to say there weren’t Canadian bands I enjoyed, but it extended only so far. Most of my interest was focused on north-west bands, primarily Seattle and Portland-area bands on the great Barsuk Records. The much-blogged about NXNE showcase set last year introduced me to handfuls of great local Canadian talent, who has in turn by pursuing them, introduced me to even more.
At last year’s Junos kick-off party, which I was lucky enough to win a guest list spot to (to see Kathleen Edwards perform a unique solo set), I was completely ambivalent to the Junos awards and couldn’t care less about most people who would be nominated. Fast forward to today, and I am scheduled to see at least two Canadian artists per day for the three days leading up to the awards ceremony, and am even maybe a little bit excited to catch the program itself. Not excited enough to fork out the $125/ticket, but I’ll watch it.
The first evening’s festivities were a bit improvisational. The Junos were throwing a free outdoor show at Metro Square to kick off the festivities surrounding the city over the next few days. The only artist I was particularly concerned in catching was Hannah Georgas, who I was also scheduled to see at the significantly more intimate Drake Underground two days later, but when I heard Katie was going, I decided to brave the sudden cold that gripped the city and head on down.
The last “outdoors” show I went to was Silverchair at Dundas Square a few years ago, and they were kind enough to put up a tent filled with heaters. No such luck with the Junos — nothing to stop the cold but the bodies of people around you, and the media platform at the back. Since I arrived ten minutes after festivities were scheduled to start, I wasn’t left with a lot of places to make camp, so I decided to get up against the media platform, which allowed me a bit of personal space and half-decent sight lines (albeit, from the very back). Canadian hip hop artist Shad was up first. It was pretty typical hip hop fare (a couple of spoken rhymes, sometimes witty, followed by a request for the audience to wave their arms in the air, etc.), but I was impressed by his decision to include a live bass player with the standard DJ. Not really my cup of tea, but most of the crowd seemed fairly into it.
Katie joined me just in time for Hannah Georgas, who put on a great set in spite of the ever dropping temperature. It was clear she was fully winning over the crowd, who were mostly sticking around for Dallas Green‘s solo project, City and Colour. But by the end of the set, we were both shivering and teeth chattering, so we ditched for soup and tea at Tim Hortons. I know, how Canadian, right?
I tried taping the Hannah Georgas set, if only to test how my gear would hold up in exposed environments, but I tried to milk leftover batteries from the previous night’s Rocky Votolato show. The frigid temperature didn’t help matters, and the batteries kicked it about half way into the set. I’m not sure if the partial set I captured is worth salvaging. Will get back to you on that one.
The next evening, I was enticed to head out to see Royal Wood at the Great Hall. Opening for Mr. Wood (who, incidentally, was my introduction to Hannah Georgas) was Emm Gryner. Katie offered me a bit of back story on Emm, letting me know that she sort-of discovered Royal Wood, and was instrumental to his relative success. I was excited to hear her, and made sure to get to the venue characteristically early enough to catch her set.
When I entered the Great Hall, I was happy to see the venue had ditched the general admission seating set-up they had when I was last here for Colleen Brown and the Crash Test Dummies. This gave me the opportunity to position myself more appropriately for taping, and allowed much greater range of movement to set-up and hide myself from security. Not that they care, but you can never be too sure.
I wasn’t in love with the sound at the Great Hall last time I was there, and there wasn’t much improvement in the months since. I know I’m spoiled by the Drake, but the sound is very ho-hum, and the creaky floors are really loud. Because the Great Hall is on the second level of the building, you also feel the floors give a little bit under the weight of a room full of people, which is disconcerting as a room continues to fill up throughout the night.
One of the most random surprises was the appearance of Flyerman, a local gentleman whose made himself famous by showing up to concerts with various jackets pimped out in LEDs spelling his name across his back. I know he’s featured on at least a couple of live DVDs filmed in Toronto, and there was a time when I couldn’t go to a concert and NOT see Flyerguy there. As I started to shy away from the lager-sized venues, I saw less and less of him. In fact, I don’t remember seeing him at a show from some five-odd years. But he graced our presence at the Great Hall — by far the smallest venue I’d seen him at –and perched himself right beside me. Luckily, other than stomping his feet and the occasional flailing dance move, he’s relatively quiet, well-behaved and respectful of both the band and audience members around him. Even though we’d never spoken, it was like seeing an old familiar friend when and where you least expected them to.
Even Emm Gryner was surprised to see him, and called him out before performing a surprisingly good drums-and-bass-only cover of The Beatles‘ Revolution (Oh, did I mention that Emm was backed by Colleen Brown’s drummer Peter Hendrickson?). Not that Emm needed to rely on classic covers to win over the audience. Her original songs had most of the room captive within the first notes of her opening song, Let It Snow through to the closing notes of Goodbye Aquarius. Her voice is phenomenal, and her musical proficiency was marvelous. She went from piano to guitar to bass unpretentiously but with remarkable finesse, and her forty-five minute set seemed to short, but was a great introduction to the artist. I can’t wait to see her again (perhaps at a better, more intimate venue?).
The recording itself is mostly really good, but the mix in the room was inconsistent and you’ll hear that show up on the tape. A good amount of EQing was already done to make it sound as nice as it does.
. : : March 25th, 2011 : : .
01. Let It Snow
02. Get Brave
06. Troublesome *
08. Top Speed
10. Ageless Contagious
11. Revoltuion [the Beatles]
13. Lose My Head +
15. Gold Soul
16. Hello Aquarius
* with Liam Titcomb
+ with Royal Wood
After joining Em Gryner for Lose My Head, Royal Wood took the stage to surprisingly little fan fare — but either his fans were busy sipping drinks, in the bathroom, or not yet converted. By the end of his set, he had a good majority of the crowd clamoring for more. He had to remind the audience that he was not the scheduled headlining act (although he was for me!), and didn’t have much leeway for set times. He also admitted earlier he was happily surprised by the turn out — after all, JunoFest was out in full force, and several “more popular” venues (quotes are mine. Read into them what you will) had some pretty tempting line-ups.
To reward the loyal fans starting to fill the Great Hall, Royal played a tight setlist that hit all the essentials. After first hearing So Glad I Met You at his show last fall at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I was secretly hoping Hannah Georgas would pop up again to do backing vocal duty again. Luckily, the song is still brilliant without her, but her touches definitely help elevate it to a level that will never allow you to fully enjoy the song any other way again.
Other staples, such as On Top Of Your Love, Do You Recall, and Juliet were great, Weigh Me Down threatened to steal the show, and the jammy Suzanne was a fun way for the band to let go of the reigns a little bit and show off just what they could do. Unfortunately, the uneven sound at the Great Hall didn’t provide the greatest environment, and the volume just seemed to get louder and louder while the mix got murkier and murkier as the night wore on. This solidified my decision to go home early and get some sleep, missing Dala‘s set.
. : : March 25th, 2011 : : .
01. Don’t Fall Apart
04. Weigh Me Down
06. So Glad I Met You
08. On Top Of Your Love
09. Do You Recall
11. Tonight I’ll Be Your Guide
14. A Mirror Without
A short night’s sleep and a long day’s work later, and it was time for the crown jewel in my crazy JunoFest week: Meaghan Smith. Eagle-eyed readers may remember seeing her name around these parts — but I don’t think there’s a trivia buff amongst you who would know that it was eight months to-the-day that I first discovered Meaghan by way of Colleen Brown that I’d finally get to see her again.
For those who don’t follow her, Meaghan is far and away the sweetest, most sincere, caring and appreciative artist in Canada. She personally responds to virtually every tweet and direct Facebook message, she answers questions weekly at FanBridge.com, and she holds frequent “Fan Appreciation” events, where she gives away all sorts of prizes — including some really unique, one-of-a-kind goodies and prize packs. As if that wasn’t enough, the girl has excess talent pouring out of her pores. Her voice is breath-taking, her lyrics and deliveries are picture perfect, and her style of “modern nostalgia” is picture perfect pop.
It frustrates me to no end that I’ve heard her played at places as varied as coffee houses, Chapters bookstores, and Swarovski Crystal stores, but any time I bring her name up in conversation, I am met with confused looks and raised eyebrows. So imagine my surprise when I tried to jokingly drop her name as an obscure I bet you’ve never heard of HER sort of way, and my friend Jenny lit up and gushed, “OH MY GOD, I LOVE HER.” So it was set: I had a companion to the final night of JunoFest. Two, in fact, because Jenny recently started dating my co-worker and all-around cool dude Ryan. … So, yeah. I end up being a third wheel out on my own excursion. But, as a taper, that’s probably for the best, anyway.
We arrived at the Drake Underground about 25 minutes before doors, and decided to grab a pizza from the Pizza Pizza down the street. When we made our way over to the Drake, it took me a few panicked seconds to realize why it looked like it was completely shut down — the lights were off for Earth Hour! The hall and stairway were candlelit, and, much to my surprise, there was a lineup to get in The Underground that snaked up the stairs and out into the hallway. I have never, ever, ever seen such a lengthy line up at the Drake. Clearly, this was largely considered one of the evening’s Must See Shows.
I couldn’t QUITE get into my usual taping position, and had to settle for a spot a bit closer to the stage and further off towards centre. That may have slightly impacted the recording, which sounds a little flat for a Drake recording (those who’ve heard my tapes, such at past Sunday’s Danny Michel recording, will know what I mean by that), but I think it’s likelier just the difficulty of mixing Meaghan’s trademark powerful voice, an acoustic guitar and a sampler into something that sounds organic in a live environment.
Regardless, the ultra short set (clocking in at almost 35-minutes even) hit all the right notes (ha-ha!), even though her cover of The Pixies‘ Here Comes Your Man was cut from the setlist at the last second. At the opening of the set, the front of the Drake was sparsely populated, but Meaghan won the room over with her infectious songs and charming stories. BREAKING NEWS: As I’m writing this blog post, Meaghan Smith just won the Juno for Best New Artist! How rad is that? Is that incentive enough to listen to all the above gushing?!
Ahem. So, where was I? Amazing… yadda, yadda…charming…blah, blah… Oh, yeah! The songs are great, and were performed with absolute gusto. Apart from one blink-and-you-missed it sour note played by her husband and guitarist, Jason Mingo, the set was flawless. Even that is a minor quibble, unmaskable in such a stripped down set-up. Seriously, get this recording, and then get her album. Like, now.
. : : March 26th, 2011 : : .
01. If You Only Had A Heart
04. A Little Love
06. I Know
08. If You Asked Me
10. Soft Touch
14. You Got Out
Seeing Hannah Georgas in a venue as intimate at the Drake Underground was a real treat. I was first introduced to Hannah via Royal Wood at his aforementioned show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre: a nice room, but kind of too large to really appreciate Hannah Georgas’ style of Metric-esque pop-rock. The open-air festival-style setting of the Junos’ Bloc Party a few days earlier was energetic and exciting, but the sound was stellar at best, it was freezing cold, and we were too far back to really get into it as much as we could have.
So I had to count on the Drake to bring the goods and really showcase Hannah the way she deserved to be seen. For the most part, the sound was fantastic. Each of the instruments came through reasonably clearly and punchy. The only problem, which started early and although intermittent stayed persistent, was a bit of interference coming through the stacks. For those whom caught my Hawksley Workman recording, it sounds JUST LIKE THAT, but this time I totally heard it live, making me question whether it was ever my gear at all. Nothing too bad or distracting, and it barely shows up on the waveform — but it is audible now and again.
Back to the show itself. The setlist was stacked on the front end with all my favourite songs. In fact, if I were to choose half a dozen songs for Hannah to play at a show, the first five would almost certainly be the first to come to mind. So I was a little worried that my attention would start to wane as the evening wore on, and although it did ever-so-slightly around the three-quarter mark, I was reeled back in by the showstopping All I Need before a quick break and a solid (if not-quite-as-flooring) two song encore.
It truly was a wonderful privilege to finally catch the band perform an appropriate venue and, perhaps moreso, a headlining set that allowed them to break out their full arsenal. I fully expected Hannah to take home the Juno for Best New Artist because her album, This Is Good, is actually quite modestly titled.
And that brought an end to my Juno festivities. The next night, during the Junos, I was so excitedly working on blogging about how much fun I had during the week and getting the recordings ready to post that I completely forgot to, you know, actually watch the Junos. From what I heard, they were excellent, exciting, and full of surprises. Apparently, Canadian viewers should be able to catch it streaming over at CTV.CA for the next little while. Quite the turnaround from last year, indeed…
. : : March 26th, 2011 : : .
01. Chit Chat
02. Lovers Breakdown
04. Thick Skin
05. This Is Good
06. Bang Bang You’re Dead
08. Your Ghost
10. Ode To Mum
11. [new song]
15. The Beat Stuff
16. Let’s Talk
18. [new song]
19. All I Need
22. The National
23. The Deep End
Huge thank yous to every single person involved with the Junos and Junofest for putting on some great events and recognizing some amazing Canadian talent. Thanks to the performers Shad, Hannah Georgas, City and Colour, Emm Gryner, Royal Wood, and Meaghan Smith for sharing your beautiful music with me. Appreciative nod to the performers whom I didn’t catch this go around; maybe I’ll get an opportunity to see you soon? And, always, to the venues and their staff for hosting us and treating us with kindness and respect. See you all soon.
- Shad @ MySpace.com
- Hannah Georgas @ MySpace.com
- City and Colour @ MySpace.com
- Emm Gryner @ MySpace.com
- Royal Wood @ MySpace.com
- Meaghan Smith @ MySpace.com
- Metro Square
- The Great Hall
- The Drake Hotel
- The Juno Awards