If you’ve been reading the blog this past summer, you’ve probably noticed there’s two bands I really started to get into in a big way: The Rest and Paper Lions. Both bands were openers and underdog show highlights at the Dark Mean album release party this past June. I’ve made a concentrated effort to catch the bands every time they’ve come into town since, and luckily, both bands have thus far made it an easy and frequent occasion.
Paper Lions, based out of Prince Edward Island on the far east Canadian coast, were the band I least expected to see again so soon but returned quickly after that fateful show at the Horseshoe Tavern, opening for Memphis a few weeks later. The band’s catchy pop/indie-rock sound, fantastic harmonies, and indefatigable energy make for a performance that serves as a picture-perfect reminder of what is so exciting about live music, and solidified my fandom. Not bad for a band that was formally known under the ridiculous moniker of The Chucky Danger Band. No, seriously.
When the band temporarily moved to Toronto for the month of September to write and demo new songs for an eventual follow-up album to the excellent Trophies EP, they decided to involve local friends and fans by partnering up with the Young Lions Music Club and performing a weekly residency gig on Wednesday nights at The Supermarket in Kensington Market. This would be a chance to trial-run the new songs in a live environment, get immediate feedback, and provide a unique chance to hear old favourites in an intimate venue.
I’ve known about the Supermarket for years, but had never actually gone. It’s mostly been the host of small draw local groups, and as such, I imagine it’s usually filled by friends of the evening’s performers and the immediately local college crowd. Its layout is not entirely unlike The Rivoli, a venue a few streetcar stops south on Queen St. You enter into a brightly lit, casual seated restaurant, and head to the back, where a smaller, darker candle-lit room filled with small circular tables and booths along the lengthwise walls. The main difference is, with the Rivoli, the performance room is completely separate from the restaurant — you have to go through two sets of doors and (assumedly) a good amount of sound proofing to get to the show.
The Supermarket, on the other hand, has a windowed wall that allows the restaurant crowd a peek into the room, giving diners a free taste of fun. If necessary, the wall retracts, merging the room into one. An interesting concept that must certainly create a kind of synergy between two differently intentioned clientele.
Paper Lions promised that each of the four shows would be unique, with rotating song set lists, surprise guests, fun covers, and more. The band would perform in the middle slot on each of the evenings, between a traditional opener, and local headliners. I was lucky enough to make it out to three out of the four performances (an existing commitment to the previously posted Whitehorse concert kept me from the third), and I can say that most of the promises were delivered with flair.
In typical fashion, I headed out to The Supermarket fairly early for the first show. I’d never been to the venue, and I wanted to allow myself time to wander a bit until I found it. It ended up being extraordinarily easy to find for someone relatively unfamiliar with the area, and I entered the venue at the advertised 8pm opening time. I found a set near the front, across from the speakers, in prime recording position. I entertained myself on my handy-dandy netbook as the organizers and the sound guy set up, but after an hour, I was still otherwise sitting alone in a dark room. The first band was scheduled for 9:15, and with a quarter of an hour before curtain time, it started to look like it might be a private performance just for me.
The resident soundguy suggested that the line-up be pushed back half-an-hour, as 9:45 was the noramal start time for the venue’s weekly Pop-Goes-Wednesday events. A compromise of 9:30 was reached, and sure enough, by the time Nick Rose took the stage, the venue had filled to a respectable level.
Nick’s low-key brand of singer-songwriter folk lacked the energy I expected from a bill shared with a band as high-octane as Paper Lions, but his warm voice and charm kept the attention of the room for a short 25-minute set. Nick himself self-consciously drew attention to the incongruity of his set when juxtaposed by the evening’s other two bands, promising that they wouldn’t “bum you out so much.”
Listening back to the recording, I’m discovering that there’s more to the set than I originally gave credit for, and although lacking the pop hooks and catchy upbeat melodies of the evening’s main draw, there’s definitely a lot to appreciate here. A more appropriate placement on a different bill (perhaps in a different venue, too?) more suitable Nick’s strengths would almost certainly allow him to shine more brightly, and might be worth a second chance.
Full band studio recordings available on Nick’s MySpace page show a very different beast, including an unrecognizable version of Run Tom Longboat from his Cloverhill EP. I presume most of the songs performed are newer tracks that have yet to see release, as the EP approaches the three year anniversary of its release. That isn’t to say Nick hasn’t been keeping busy in the meantime; he’s pulling triple overtime by also co-fronting both Sweet Thing and Dwayne Gretzky.
Despite a couple of shutter clicks and audience chatter, the recording turned out pretty well. Worth a quick listen to the streaming sample below to determine whether Nick Rose is your cup of tea, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes another appearance on the blog in the future.
03. Lay Me Down
07. Run Tom Longboat
After a quick and easy set-up, the Paper Lions took the stage promptly, starting the show with two “brand new songs.” Fans know that’s a bit of hyperbole — the band has been playing both songs, Philadelphia and Sandcastles at least since the beginning of the summer. What’s not an exaggeration is that with each performance, the songs begin to sound evermore refined, and are virtually as polished as the next song and should-be-radio-single cut, Don’t Touch That Dial.
What the latter song lacks in lyrical depth, it more than makes up for in unabashed infectiousness. Indeed, each member of the quartet sings during the chorus, and you can’t help but wonder if the four-vox refrains came about intentionally, or if everyone just couldn’t help but join in during a band practice one day. It’s frantic energy propels it into near pop-perfection.
Sweat It Out, the band’s answer to Loverboy‘s 1981 hit Working For The Weekend, is a more methodically paced selection that is catchy, but doesn’t quite deserve to be in contention with Don’t Touch That Dial for radio play, as drummer David Cyrus MacDonald indicated while bantering between songs.
The rest of the set went back and forth between some gems from Trophies, select cuts their first full-length (and self-titled) album as Paper Lions, some new songs of variable quality, and a faithful and fun cover of The Beatles‘ Martha My Dear. In fact, the only serious misstep of the night was lead guitarist Colin Buchanan‘s inability to get through more than a couple of bars of the main riff during set closer Ghostwriter. The frustration was painted plainly on his face as the song threatened to fall apart completely during the final seconds of the show– but not to worry! He’d have three more chances to make up for the faux-pas.
As per the venue, some songs are pretty heavy on the bass, and clarity and loudness of vocals fluctuate depending on whether frontman John MacPhee is using the primary microphone, or the second one perched over his keyboards. Otherwise, this turned out to be a fantastic recording, and great representation of the evening.
04. Don’t Touch That Dial
05. Sweat It Out
07. Sophomore Slump
10. Stay Here For A While
12. We Survive
13. Martha My Dear [the Beatles]
15. Lost The War
I started a new job at a new location in the morning, so I left shortly into Allie Hughes set to get home and catch some Z’s before having to wake up and leave extra early to make sure I could find the new location.
I brought my friend Chris with me to the second week of the residency. He also came to the aforementioned show at Lee’s Palace a few weeks earlier, and was excited to see the band again. We grabbed some wings and then headed over. This week, I knew we could take our time, but ended up being a wee later than I expected. The venue already had a fairly large crowd by the time we got there, and gone were the round tables filling most of the room — it was booths along the sides or standing room only, and the booths had long since been claimed. We made our way to an approximation of where I was sitting the previous week to try and encourage congruity in sound between the different tapes.
We weren’t there for long before Gavin Slate took the stage, flanked by two band members to accompany him on acoustic guitar. Lead guitarist (whose name I can’t seem to find! Help?) on his right, and on his left was his sister, Alexandra Slate, provided frequent vocals. I hesitated to use the phrase “backing vocals”, because her strong voice not only frequently overpowered the front man, but also showed a bit more range. Sometimes, this trade off worked, and sometimes … well, not so much.
Gavin Slate’s recent EP, Life As A Salesman, was produced by Colin Cripps of Jim Cuddy Band, Blue Rodeo and Kathleen Edwards fame. The title track features Hater-high.com favourite Colleen Brown on backing vocals. You probably know what to expect from just these tidbits alone, and you probably wouldn’t be more than a stone’s toss away from the truth.
Not unlike Nick Rose’s set the previous week, Gavin’s opening set didn’t come close to touching the explosive energy of Paper Lions, but was a relatively solid set of indie roots-rock.
01. Stranger In The Dark
02. Hollywood Hills
04. Living on Death Row
06. On The Incline
07. [dead air]
11. Life As A Salesman
To be forthright, the second of the three Paper Lions residency shows was my favourite. The set list was fast-paced, action-packed and full of surprises. Chief amongst those surprises was when the band unplugged their instruments and walked off the stage into the crowd only five songs into their set list. The sound guy was understandably confused and started to play a CD, but the audience seemed to know what was going on as they piled in a tight circle around the East Coast boys.
Armed with a single acoustic guitar and three voices, they broke into an “old, unreleased song”, Polly Hill — a great song with a chorus and ending refrain that had the crowd singing along to a song that they’d never heard before. It gives me chills to listen back, and is an indisputable highlight of the entire residency gig. Also a surprise, a fun cover of Fine Young Cannibals (remember them?) hit, She Drives Me Crazy.
Unfortunately, although it was the best performance of the nights, it was far and away the most difficult to tape. The first half of the set, before the aforementioned Polly Hill, is fairly standard fare for one of my recordings. Obviously, when the band played un-mic’ed, I had to make a huge, quick on-the-fly volume increase, and managed to bring it down to more-or-less the same level immediately after.
However, near the end of She Drives Me Crazy, there was a drastic increase in house volume that I didn’t notice immediately in the venue (although after the set, I did turn to Chris and asked if the sound didn’t get crazy loud by the end — he agreed). As such, the last third of the set is noticeably louder.
Also, the evening’s last act, Dwayne Gretzky, seemed to bring out just as many fans to the Supermarket as the Paper Lions did — so there was a marked increase in chatty, disengaged fans. How they could be so uninterested, I can’t possibly imagine, but there you have it.
Regardless, it’s a great set, and in spite of the above warnings, it still a really good recording (if not a wee-bit treble-heavy). Well worth downloading for fans new and old.
03. I’m On Fire
07. [dead air]
08. Polly Hill
09. She Drives Me Crazy [Fine Young Cannibals]
10. San Simeon
12. Don’t Touch That Dial
I actually stumbled across Dwayne Gretzky’s band name several weeks before I ended up, completely by chance, seeing them close out the Paper Lion’s second residency gig. Dwayne Gretzky was currently in the midst of a weeks long residency engagement of their own over at the Dakota Tavern,- a venue whose website I was checking out for details on the Kathleen Edwards show this past August. I laughed at their name — a clever riffing on famous Canadian hockey player, Wayne Gretzky. But it really didn’t tell me much about the band… other than I needed to find out more.
A quick Google search shortly thereafter brought me to a YouTube video of the band performing Huey Lewis & The News‘ The Power Of Love — a song with a special place in my heart (Back To The Future is indisputably one of the greatest all-time movies). A bit more research showed that the band is made up of frequently rotating members from various Canada bands, including Sweet Thing and the Arkells. They play exclusively cover songs, but don’t seem to specialize in any specific genre or musical era.
So, yeah, I was kind of excited to see what they’d bring to The Supermarket, and decided to tough out the extra late night transit ride home, even if I had to work the next day. It was clear within the first few songs I wasn’t going anywhere — they opened with a trifecta of Beatles (and Beatles-related) songs, and followed up with a couple of Motown era hits, including The Ronettes‘ Be My Baby and the Jackson 5‘s I Want You Back, both of which were fronted by Allie Hughes, who did an admirable job of mimicking the voice of a youthful Michael Jackson.
The latter half of the set was classic rock heavy, featuring a couple of songs each by Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, but was broken up with choice cuts by Aretha Franklin and The Temptations. What did I say? Their taste is music is vast and eclectic!
My concern with cover bands in the excitement and energy of the live performance might have extra trouble translating to tape. After all, isn’t the excitement of a cover band based on a blend of surprise and nostalgia? I have to say, Dwayne Gretzky did a great job of getting the crowd amp’ed up. There was hardly a body to be seen not dancing, swaying or bobbing — an unusual feat to coerce from a Toronto audience. But I suppose how much you’ll enjoy this download depends more on how much you enjoy the originals the band pays homage to.
Despite the ear-ringing bombast of sound coming from the speakers, this tape turned out pretty well. Check out the sample below, if only to appreciate how faithfully the band reproduces the instrumentation of the originals.
01. Let Me Roll It [Paul McCartney]
02. All My Loving [the Beatles]
03. Eight Days A Week [the Beatles]
04. Be My Baby [the Ronettes]
06. Pump It Up [Mudhoney]
07. I Want You Back [Jackson 5]
08. You Wreck Me [Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers]
09. Ballroom Blitz [Sweet]
10. You Don’t Know How It Feels [Tom Petty]
11. Chain of Fools [Aretha Franklin]
12. Dancing In The Dark [Bruce Springsteen]
13. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg [the Temptations]
15. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out [Bruce Springsteen]
As I mentioned previously, I was only able to make it to three out of four Paper Lions shows. I already was engaged to see the Whitehorse concert during the third evening’s performance, and although I was hoping the set might close out in time for me to grab a taxi and head to the Supermarket, it wasn’t meant to be. So, onto week four.
I ended up heading down by myself again for the final show, and the Supermarket was laid out again in the more traditional open-floor format of the second week. I wasn’t so early that I could secure a seat along the walls, but not so late that I had any problem getting into the previous week’s taping spot. I did just barely catch the tail end of surprise opener, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, who looked like he absolutely tore the house down. I was sad to see the show started early this week, and I more or less missed all but the last song and encore.
It wasn’t much longer before LOOM took the stage, though. LOOM is a solo project of singer-songwriter Brooke Manning, and a varying rotation of band members. On this night, Brooke was only accompanied by Thomas Gil, on the sampler.
LOOM’s music is a droning sort of indie-rock, lazily strummed two-chord songs played on a reverb-laden electric guitar that was a fine showcase of Brooke’s quiet, fragile singing voice reminiscent of early Jenny Lewis, but struggled to keep the attention of the Supermarket’s audience. Even Thomas sat cross-legged on the floor of the stage, giving an air of casual indifference. If the band looks bored playing the music, how can you expect the audience to maintain an active interest in the performance?
Granted, the band calls themselves a slowcore band (perhaps more than tongue-in-cheek than the joke genre name implies), but I can’t help but feel the genre is doing a disservice, boxing in and limiting Brooke’s real strength — her voice. I, for one, would be much more interested seeing her branch out to different, more engaging projects.
Also, perhaps one with a more Google-able name. Did you know there’s three or four bands sharing the name LOOM?
The recording sounds good, but there is audience chatter heard throughout the relatively quiet set.
Finally, we were here: at the final show of a month-long residency. I think the hype and expectations were unfairly heightened — I expected the final show to pull out all the stops, get out, kick them a little, get back in, and continue on its way. All the hits, high energy performance, new songs, new covers, the whole nine yards.
What I got was another fairly standard Paper Lions set, with a couple of specific highlights. The opening number was a fantastic, jammy, and unique version of Traveling from the band’s self-titled effort. Of course, while adjusting the the levels as the song started, I apparently paused the recording, and didn’t notice until six or eight minutes later, as the final chord of the song ran out. Yep, I got the first two lines, and the last chord. I guess some things are better off left to memory.
The other highlight was a repeat of the first evening of the residency: a cover of The Beatles’ Martha My Dear. This time, the honey pot was sweetened with the inclusion of a trumpet player named Tom (and whose last name I didn’t catch!) who hit all the right notes and raised a repeated song to a new level.
The inclusion of two brand new songs so early into the setlist as the third and fourth tracks threatened to derail the momentum a little bit — not so much because they’re bad, but because they were still unfamiliar to the lively crowd. They were back on track by mid-set with a predictably rocking one-two punch of Stay Here For A While and Don’t Touch That Dial. Finally, the band ended the final show of the residency the same way they ended the first show, with Ghostwriter.
With that, a great month of music came to a close; but the band refuses to stand still for even a moment — they are about to embark on a quick coast-to-coast Canada-crossing tour to bring these new songs to new audiences across the country. Although this new batch of shows, dubbed the Rolling Oyster Revue tour, doesn’t bring them back to Toronto, the band is already in the planning stages of at least one final gig before the year comes to a close.
If the Supermarket residency was any indication, it’s a fair bet to say Toronto will be waiting with loving, open arms for their return.
01. Traveling [cut]
03. San Simeon
04. Pull Me In
05. Sweat It Out
06. Stay Here FOr A While
07. Martha My Dear [the Beatles]
08. Don’t Touch That Dial
10. Lost The War
Huge thank yous to Paper Lions, Nick Rose, Gavin Slate, Dwayne Gretzky, LOOM, the Young Lions Music Club, Exclaim Magazine, and The Supermarket for an exceptional month of performances.