For better or worse, Canadian Music Week is always a cluster fuck. First off, the performances were all crammed into “Canadian Music Fest,” which is exactly the same thing as Canadian Music Week; they’ve just decided to compartmentalize it this time year. Secondly, you’ve probably seen a few non-Canadian names headlining the bill on the festival’s main poster. Now we should get it straight, Canadian Music Week (and therefore Canadian Music Fest) isn’t just about showcasing Canadian music. International acts have always been highlights (as you’ll read later), and there’s always been an element to exposing these cross-national acts to Torontonian ears. But Ke$ha and Daughtry, the two most damning names on the Canadian Music Fest poster, are not Canadian, nor are they in any need of exposure. The thing is their inclusion on the poster is consequential: Ke$ha was playing a “Fan Fest” for Chum FM, the “mom jeans” of Toronto radio stations. So the wristbands, which sold for $60 and gave access to every non-VIP Canadian Music Fest concert, didn’t actually get you into Ke$ha. Colour me heartbroken.
Daughtry? Well honestly, I don’t know how that happened, where it happened or even if it happened. If it did, I wasn’t there.
Here’s where I was.
On Wednesday, otherwise known as the first day of the festival, I was nowhere. I went down to the Royal York Fairmont Hotel to pick up my wristband and that was pretty intimidating. I walked in and was immediately surrounded by guys who look kind of like me only with worse facial hair and more friends. I had no idea where I was going. Given that it was a media event, nobody was actually doing anything, so I had to guess. It worked out and I got my wristband. Then I went home and didn’t come back out—I wanted to go to Fucked Up that night (well, technically it was Thursday since their set was scheduled for 1 in the morning), but class the next morning didn’t give me that option. That and the fact that while they won the Polaris Prize this past year and were considered a hot-button act, I don’t much care for them or the headache I’d probably have the next morning, or, uh, like four hours later when I’d have to leave for school.
For me Canadian Music Fest started Thursday. Again there was a slight delay: I had planned to see Amos the Transparent play a 9:20PM set at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. I’d heard the name and some snippets of them and I was looking forward to seeing them, but I ended up missing their set after stopping by Graffiti’s to see Jack Marks and the Lost Wages play a free set. If you haven’t heard Marks, and I’ll reckon you haven’t, he and his band play a Dylan-esque brand of country that’s as gloomy lyrically as it is rustic musically. They hadn’t played in a while after a temporary hiatus and while they play basically weekly when they’re around, they hadn’t been and I’m a sucker for consistency.
I headed out at about 10 and made my way to the Hideout to catch the final three acts of the Canadian Music Fest Irish Showcase.
I waltzed in just as Dark Room Notes were getting underway. I’d heard comparisons to Metric but they struck me with a decidedly more 80s vibe. When they started, the dance floor, which is segmented and blocked in by a few comfy chairs and a couch, had a population of 1. But what began as a track-pant wearing party of one quickly steamrolled as about a dozen onlookers decided to join in on the fun. It’s not to say the guy-in-the-blue-sweat-pants didn’t have chops, but the increase in dancers was less likely a result of his shuffle as it was was the band’s increasing hold over the audience. They began their set reminding me as sure of an early The Cure with more of a pulse. It wasn’t gloomy so much as it was a lack of sheen, something I quickly found out was as much a result of the venues sound as it was their energy. But as their set continued their pulse intensified, and when synthstress Arran Murphy (such a nice Irish name, by the way) finally got her intentions in line with the sound guy’s capabilities the floor was close to vibrating from its newly welcomed oomph, which more than made up for their lack of a bassist. Problem was it came a little late. Of course their set was still good, but hardly a barometer for what would come next, neither in terms of quality nor in regards to the madness that is and was Adebisi Shank.
Being a writer on SputnikMusic, theirs is a name I’d obviously read (but not heard, because that would mean I’d be able to pronounce it the first try). I was prepared for a techy, quirky set. I got that, but was hardly ready for just how noisy, spastic and flat out good they were live. If I’d put two and two together, I could have gathered they’d be overwhelming when I saw just how long their set-up took. The amps got noticeably bigger, but a better indicator would have been the line of pedals getting wired. A three-piece consisting of guitar, bass and drums, Adebisi Shank had enough pedals to make Thom Yorke’s balls explode. And they used them all, too: the bass oftentimes sounded like a guitar and the guitar spent a lot of time sounding like a bass. Thankfully the drums always sounded like drums.
Their performance was highlighted by bassist The Vinny Show, who used his four strings to emit beeps and boops all the while scaring confused girls in the audience with the hood he wears live and entertaining in-crowd hipsters with the sticker on his bass that reads “I am sexy, sexy, sexxxyyy puke”. But it wasn’t all visual gimmickry for The Vinny Show, much like it wasn’t all Vinny Show for Adebisi Shank. Guitarist Lars and drummer Mick did more than their fair share of on the money freaking-out and had huge roles in adding an element of catchiness to Vinny’s off the wall lunacy. While their songs usually spiralled into chaos, Lars in particular had a real knack for rhythmic sections, employing them just long enough to enthuse the audience to try and dance but not long enough for them to actually succeed at doing so. Their set also featured some occasional chatter from the instrumental Irishmen, with Vinny introducing one song as “their last” before going “wait, no it isn’t” and Lars claiming another as the Irish national anthem.
Adebisi Shank might have been the best performance of a five-day festival that ended with me catching the Dillinger Escape Plan in front of a packed house. It was a relatively concise set that saw the bassist nearly kill himself by standing on a rickety table in the crowd and saw him nearly kill me when his bass cord tangled me up into a mummified journalist as he attempted his rush back to the stage after a brief stint on the dancefloor. When they finished, Vinny handed his bass to a group of unsuspecting girls in the crowd (without saying a word) before walking back of house. They got a good 5 minutes before the next band came to grab it for their sound check.
That next band was Belfast’s And So I Watch You From Afar, who were given the honour of playing a 1A.M set to a crowd of intoxicated couples who very clearly knew nothing about them. What made it more challenging (I’m sure) was the pronouncement from guitarist and apparent band-leader Tony Wright that they’d been awake for over 40 hours. The reason they needed Vinny Show’s bass was because theirs was apparently “somewhere in New York”
Once they started it was pretty evident that sleep deprivation wasn’t really a factor. Playing their unique metal take on post-rock’s structures, the Irish four-piece did an excellent job at managing their build-ups and breakaways tastefully. Songs like “S is for Salamander” inserted tasteful little grooves until the band would let out a FUCK or a YES and break into bombastic crescendos. While their set started with a spikey-haired fan shouting “I can’t hear your vocals”, which I’m sure the band foundhilarious, I later heard the same fan remarking, albeit in a much more intoxicated state, that “sometimes you don’t need vocals”. In fact their was a fair bit of chatter, mostly from the band itself. Maybe they were simply trying to keep themselves awake between songs, but standouts included the band asking if there were any “real” Canadians in the audience, noting that he assumed we were all Irish because, as he says it, they’re “everywhere” (an opposite to what our own Dave de Sylvia would say, as he later told me there were no real Irish people in Dublin). Like Adebisi Shank, And So I Watch You From Afar spent time in the audience but not before saying they had only a couple left, but that they all go for “about 40 minutes a piece”, and like Adebisi Shank, And So I Watch You From Afar were really, really good.
By the time And So I Watch You From Afar finished it was just about 2 in the morning, but my night wasn’t over yet. I hung around the venue for a bit to see if I could get a quick word in with any of the closing two acts but when it became clear that wouldn’t happen it was off to the El Mocambo for my final set of the night.
I got to the Elmo midway through Sandman Viper Command’s set and was pleasantly surprised to see I wasn’t the only one braving the late-hours to take advantage of an extended last-call and quality live music. Having seen Sandman Viper Command, who got their name from a scene in 1995’s Outbreak, I knew what to expect—a loud, guitar driven spin on indie rock— and as always the band delivered. Of course their set wasn’t perfect; with vocalist Rob Janson struggling to hear himself and the crowd struggling to hear him it felt at times like the vocals were mimed instead of sung. Musically they were on the ball; “Yo Bobcat”, arguably the band’s ‘trademark’, was in full force and had those brave enough to stay up for their set shuffling their feet to Aaron Harvey’s spiralling work on the bass.