Canadian Music Week takes over Toronto

Day 1: Wednesday, March 9

The Venue: The Phoenix Concert Theatre

The Line-up: Rococode, Whale Tooth, Birds of Tokyo, Mother Mother

Canadian Music Week started with flair on Wednesday night at the Phoenix. Headlined by Mother Mother – who were backed by Rococode, Whale Tooth and Birds of Tokyo – the line-up showcased talent originating from Vancouver, Toronto and even Australia.

First up were Mother Mother’s fellow Vancouverites Rococode. Andrew Braun and Laura Smith fronted the band, each holding their own as the venue filled up. Smith’s presence, however, was undeniably attention-grabbing as such a huge voice came out of her tiny frame.

They played songs including “Tina” and “Blood,” and although no recorded material is available at the moment, a debut album should be out later this year.

Unsigned Toronto band Whale Tooth followed Rococode and hit the stage running with a powerfully punchy set. Frontwoman Elise LeGrow stole the show, jerking around the stage in a spastic manner that somehow still managed to exude sex appeal.

Declaring her love for drinking and screaming, she pulled the crowd onto her side and got them riled up well before Whale Tooth’s set ended with special guest Scott from the Russian Futurists playing the trumpet.

Australian rockers Birds of Tokyo took the stage next, but failed to deliver as engaging performances as their openers. They played a tight-sounding set and technically speaking were on point throughout, but the songs were just too generic-sounding to really connect with the audience.

Mother Mother revived the night, however, bringing the perfect combination of energy and talent to the stage. Playing to a venue packed with their fans, the band opened with “O My Heart” from their 2008 album of the same name.

They also showed off new tunes from Eureka (released Mar. 15) like “Original Spin,” “Baby Don’t Dance” and “The Stand.” Lead singer Ryan Guldemond joked about the new record, telling the crowd, “Download it for free or sell it for crack, whatever makes you happy.”

Speaking to The Cord, Guldemond revealed that the recording process for Eureka was “arduous and meticulous,” but the band has grown a lot in terms of their working relationships.

“There’s greater unspoken synergy between everyone in the band and that’s really what you want to go for,” he said.

Nevertheless, it was obvious that the crowd still appreciated the older tracks, as “Polynesia” and “Wrecking Ball” received incredible reactions from the sea of fans, who belted out every lyric.

Speaking about the night’s performance, Guldemond said that the band “didn’t hold back.” He continued, “We did our best, that’s for sure.”

As Mother Mother closed out the night with an encore set and fans filed back out into the miserable rain, Guldemond’s earlier remark, “Who cares what it’s like out there, it’s good in here,” really rang true.

Day 2: Thursday, March 10

The Venue: The Horseshoe Tavern

The Line-up: Modern Superstitions, Molly Rankin, Memphis, Still Life Still, Zeus

Thursday night’s show at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern was a testament to the festival’s organization and planning team. With a great line-up and impeccable punctuality, the CHARTattack showcase went off without a hitch.

Modern Superstitions opened the night with a short set that included songs from their EP, as well as some new tracks.

Despite the early timeslot and small crowd, the foursome gave it their all, delivering an awesome start to the evening.

Speaking to The Cord before the show, lead singer Nyssa Rosaleen described the band’s sound saying, “We write pop songs and we play them fast and loud.” As for their experience playing CMW, guitarist Matt Aldred summed it up stating, “We’re excited to be playing with the other bands.”

Next up was Molly Rankin and her four-piece backing band, who delivered one of the most charming sets of the night.

She had made the drive from P.E.I. and with her mother and cousin in the audience, she put on a performance that surely made them proud.

Rankin’s music definitely borrows from the Maritimes’ tradition of folk, but with songs about broken hearts and stolen boyfriends, Rankin gives listeners something a little more modern.

The heavy hitting sound was even more impressive coming from the tiny-statured songstress on stage. When she wasn’t entertaining the crowd with songs off her first release, the She EP, or a cover of Kristy Maccoll’s “He’s on the Beach,” she was eliciting laughs from them with comments like, “Who’s going to see Janet Jackson? Not me!”

Rankin’s impressive set was followed by Stars’ Torquil Campbell’s side project Memphis. If Campbell hadn’t revealed that the show was the band’s first in five years after only one rehearsal, no one in the crowd would have been able to tell.

They put on a polished, poppy performance with all the theatricality of a Stars show, but one that allowed Campbell to really shine in the spotlight.

Memphis ran through a set that included “Whatever You Want,” “I am the Photographer” (which he dedicated to the front row) and “Let’s Get Incredibly Drunk on Whiskey,” which were interspersed with Campbell’s hilarious banter.

He declared, “Thankyou for coming to Canadian Music fuck down!” then introduced himself to the crowd by stating, “My name is Torquil – I would like any drugs that you have.”

Labelmates to Memphis and Zeus, Still Life Still took their turn on the stage next, but failed to deliver as lively a performance as the first few acts.

They managed to get a good response from the crowd, but most of the songs in their set seemed to drone together, until they picked it up with the final two tracks.

Zeus, however, made up for any weak links in Thursday night’s line-up, establishing themselves as one of Toronto’s finest live acts within moments of starting to play.

The four-member, multi-vocalist group welcomed the crowd by proclaiming, “We gotta cram a lot of shit into 50 minutes for you people.” And despite the short set, Zeus did indeed manage to fit in a lot of catchy, well-played “shit.”

They started off with a really strong performance of “Greater Times On The Wayside/The River By The Garden” and carried on the set with songs off their album Say Us like “Marching Through Your Head” and one of the highlights of the night “How Does it Feel?”

Another high point of the night was their epic rendition of Genesis’ “That’s All.”

Closing the not-long-enough set, Zeus followed “Kindergarten” with “The Renegade” before going off-stage and leaving fans wanting more.

Day 3: Friday, March 11

The Venue: The Horseshoe Tavern

The Line-up: Christina Martin, the Sheepdogs, Hooded Fang, Winter Gloves, Cuff the Duke

On Friday afternoon, the Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music hosted one of the most unique concerts of the week.

The Institute, primarily used for music lessons, provided an intimate setting for an audience that included a range of people from middle-agers to students to a crowd of toddlers. We’re Not Popstars displayed their talented brand of Latin jazz, entertaining the diverse crowd.

When night-time rolled around, the Horseshoe Tavern filled up more quickly than the night before, as fans packed into the bar to see another great show.

Truly spanning the width of Canadian music, Friday’s line-up saw artists from Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and even Saskatoon.

Haligonian songstress Christina Martin started the show by remarking, “What are you doing here? It’s only 8:30,” before launching into a powerful set of her folky tunes.

She shared the stage with her husband and Cuff the Duke guitarist Dale Murray, making the crowd laugh with her continuous stream of banter about everything from the lack of olives at the bar to her and Murray’s recent marriage.

In a brief interview with The Cord, Martin stated that the atmosphere in the Horseshoe was “really conducive to putting on a good show,” and went on to say that being part of CMW was “a privilege.”

She also noted that the week-long festival “is a really great opportunity for artists to network and build working relationships.”

Martin was followed by Saskatoon’s the Sheepdogs, who delivered a 1970s southern rock vibe, from their rock ‘n’ roll sound to their shaggy long hair. Fans sang along towards the front of the stage, picking up the energy in the room for the next band to come on.

Toronto’s Hooded Fang were up next, who brought their synthy pop-rock sound to the warmed-up audience. With seven members on stage, including barefooted singer Daniel, there was no shortage of action to watch. The set included songs off their debut album Hooded Fang Album like “Laughing.”

The four members of Montreal’s Winter Gloves were next on the bill, showcasing the band’s keyboard-heavy poppy rock music. The bouncy, high-energy show got the crowd moving with songs off their new EP Heart Out.

Finally, Oshawa’s alt-country Cuff the Duke took the stage for a commanding performance, proving themselves to be an outstanding live act. They ripped through songs off their latest album Way Down Here such as “It’s All a Blur,” “Listen to Your Heart” and crowd sing-a-long “Follow Me.” Fan favourite “Take My Money and Run” from 2005’s self-titled album also got an amazing response from the audience.

An excellent closing to a day filled with wide-ranging musical sounds, Cuff the Duke stole the show.

Day 4: Saturday, March 12

The Venue: The Fairmont Royal York

The Line-up: Hannah Georgas, Bombay Bicycle Club, Hollerado, Shad, Janelle Monae

Saturday saw another unique afternoon set, this time at the Bait Shop. With the stage set up at the end of a half-pipe, fans piled in to the skate shop to see Diemonds, the Zoobombs and Dinosaur Bones.

Diemonds rocked out, fully clad in leather pants, chains and denim vests, giving the crowd a throwback to ‘80s hair metal.

Japan’s the Zoobombs put on an incredibly entertaining set for the audience, who witnessed some of the craziest moves of the week.

From guitar spins to climbing up on a ledge beside the stage, lead singer and guitarist Don Matsuo demonstrated his uncanny talent for showmanship.

Dinosaur Bones followed up the lively set with a set packed full of their garage-rock sound. Prior to their afternoon slot, bassist Branko Scekic spoke to The Cord about the musical environment in Toronto, saying, “It’s just an amazing scene, there’s a lot of great bands coming out of Toronto that I think cause you to push and strive to be a better band.”

He also talked about the CMW experience, stating, “the best part is just getting a wristband and being able to run around and see a billion bands. It just brings the city together.”

The evening took on a different feel than the rest of the week for The Indies – an awards show honouring Canada’s favourite acts in independent music.

Hosted at the Royal York hotel, presenters like Magneta Lane, Sammy Hagar and k-os handed out awards in the form of guitars to artists like Hannah Georgas, Hollerado and Shad.

Marianas Trench and Alexisonfire were also present to accept their awards for Favourite Pop Artist or Group of the Year and Favourite Group of the Year, respectively.

International winners included the Black Keys, Mumford and Sons and Sleigh Bells.

Georgas performed a four-song set, which included tracks off her album This is Good like “Bang Bang You’re Dead.” She was also presented with the award for Favourite Solo Artist of the Year.

Hollerado, winners of Favourite Video of the Year for “Americanarama,” also played a short, exciting set that included a performance of the aforementioned song, as well as an audience-sung rendition of “Happy Birthday” for bassist Dean Baxter.

The next notable performance came from London, Ontario’s Shad, who had played at Wilf’s the night before.

Speaking to The Cord, he described his win for Favourite Artist of the Year by saying, “It’s cool, I get a free guitar and a record sleeve and it’s awesome.”

Before rushing off to compile his setlist, he threw in a “Go Laurier!” His set included numerous songs off TSOL like “Rose Garden,” “Telephone” and “Keep Shining.”

No one in the crowd could have anticipated the final performance of the night, which came courtesy of poppy soul songstress Janelle Monae.

Every element of the show was designed to entertain, and boy, did it ever. From an elaborate introduction to dancing nuns to a dancer-controlled giant butterfly, there wasn’t a boring moment in the set.

Monae’s immense talent shone through her ridiculously awesome dance moves and flawless, powerful voice.

While hits like “Tightrope” and “Cold War” from last year’s The Archandroid definitely made the highlight list, fans were undoubtedly left in awe after her performance of Charlie Chaplin’s classic (also done by Nat King Cole and Michael Jackson) “Smile.”

Followed by an incredible encore performance that had fans crouching on the floor before Monae crowd-surfed across the entire room, Monae’s show was undoubtedbly one of the best of the week and the perfect way to close Canadian Music Week.