Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: SummerWorks Music Series.

The SummerWorks festival is over for the year. Like last year, I only went to the music events, and ended up seeing 6 of the 9 shows, all at Theatre Centre. Here's what I saw (and thanks to Garry Tsaconas for all the photos):

Two Quebec-based acts started off the festival, Karkwa and Miracle Fortress. I planned to miss the opening band because I had my heart set on seeing another band elsewhere at that time, but as it turned out, the show at Theatre Centre was running late and so I got to see half of Karkwa's set. Prog-rock isn't really my thing, and with the crowd completely seated (except for me and a photographer friend), the mood was a little too toned-down for my liking. But these guys impressed some people, and if I felt like listening to ambient pop-rock music, I now know where to turn. Miracle Fortress, a solo act this time around, got audience members up and moving. Graham Van Pelt's spastic dancing, posing, and creative music-making was one of the highlights of the festival for me. It wasn't so much that I really liked what I heard, but the performance---including the blown fuses which interrupted the set twice---was great fun and weird enough to take me just out of my comfort zone. The last, encore song was a hit with me and everyone else. (See also Joe's take on the show.)

The next night was the show I was most looking forward to of the whole festival: DD/MM/YYYY and Montreal's Think About Life (also featuring Van Pelt). The last time I'd seen oddball post-punk rockers DD/MM/YYYY I'd been working the door, and had thus been much too distracted to get my fix. And Think About Life... well, wow. Their performance last summer at Sneaky Dee's remains one of the most explosive sets of live music I've ever seen. Since then they've come out with a second, more accessible full-length, chock-full of dance hits. The show was expectedly pretty great, though to my mind the cavernous nature of the venue took away from the experience somewhat. Dancing? Yes. Moshing? Not so much. And still there were plenty of people sitting on chairs not moving an inch. Although I heard later that the show was a sell-out, by the time DD/MM/YYYY took the stage, the crowd had thinned a little. Not quite as epic as I'd wanted, but I certainly got my dance on and I hope both bands earned themselves new fans. In a smaller---or just more crammed space---watch out.
Garry caught TAL in mid-pose during their set---this is a band that isn't afraid to get sweaty and dance like crazy on stage and in the crowd. This must have been before frontman Martin Ceasar climbed a lighting tower and flung gold sparkles all over us, with elan.

I took Saturday off (completely) but was back at SummerWorks come Sunday night, this time for newish Arts & Crafts signees Still Life Still and wacky electro group Kids on TV. The weather was dreadful that day, and as I rode my bike to the venue I was treated to a mildly terrifying lightning show up ahead of me. No doubt the elements accounted for the sparser than anticipated turnout for this show. No matter: Both bands put on energetic sets fit for dancing. My first time seeing Kids on TV did not disappoint. Ridiculously fun, even with three (3!) blown fuses during their set. SLS grew on me. These kids got something. And, by the numbers of people dancing up a storm, it looks like I am getting on the bandwagon relatively late. (Joe's got his take up here.)

Guest music programmer Eric Warner got the night off on Monday, but Tuesday the festival was back on, with Boys Who Say No and Fox Jaws. I'd seen both these bands before, but only once each, so was keen to take them in a second time. Fox Jaws, a Barrie-based band with an new album coming out super soon---and a release party Friday night at El Mocambo---impressed me. Complex rock arrangements, intense drumming, smoky rock vocals by lead Carleigh Atkins, and all-'round tightness are stand-out features of this band's sound. Canadiana rock isn't at the top of my own favourite genres list, but these guys/gal do it well. Here's to hoping their new disc goes over well with fans old and new. Boys Who Say No took advantage of the venue's setup and brought props along for their energetic set. (Cardboard cut-out larger-than-life raccoons, skunks, pigeons, and other garbage-eaters, and helium-filled garbage bags.) I don't get all of what they do musically, but BWSN have got some great tunes---I especially like the ukelele ones---and the vocal chops of Luke Correia-Damude really helps pull things together. A strong show featuring strong musicianship and two of the best voices around. Satisfied, I decided to take Wednesday night off.

The Out Of This Spark show last Thursday---on the day of label owner Stuart Duncan's birthday---was one of the most fun shows I've been to in a while. And also one of the hottest. As in sweltering. OOTS labelmates Forest City Lovers and The D'Urbervilles each played a short set of five songs each. As FCL ended their last song, bassist Kyle Donnelly transitioned seamlessly into "Spin the Bottle," a song by his other band, the D'Urbs. His bandmates joined him on stage---well, on stage and on the floor, where the instruments were set up---snapping their fingers and doing their best to get the (then) seated crowd energized. Soon enough we were standing, dancing, and clapping ourselves. After their short set was done, and after a short break, the D'Urbs and FCL came back together en masse as the "Family Band." It was really fun! There was so much energy and excitement in the crowd and on stage (floor, actually). Look:

This was a brilliant set (if not the tightest musically). I never would have thought that such a collaboration would have worked out so well, and to both band's advantages, but was I ever wrong. The double drumming and hard-hitting guitar and bass lines really pumped up Forest City Lover's quiet songs, without making them lose any of their charm. But, for me, the D'Urbervilles' songs as played by this larger band were the best part of the set. The kick provided by the extra drummer and Mika Posen's well-mixed violin lines and Kat Burns' less-well-mixed backing vocals really filled in the band's sound in a great way. Yay! What a special night. (Here's what Joe thought.)

I missed out on Friday's show---featuring the impressive Sunparlour Players and Josh Reichmann---but was back at the Theatre Centre for the final show of the series. This one brought together Great Bloomers and Germans. Great Bloomers were ending up a cross-Canada tour, so I expected a large crowd and a tight set. Check. Germans were coming back after a lengthy hiatus, and I'd never seen them before, so wasn't quite sure what to expect. The night ran quite late, and it was hella hot in there---hotter than even Thursday night's sweat-fest---and so by the time Germans came on there were perhaps less people than there might have been given the occasion. The band sounded a little less than perfectly practiced, but they've got some great songs. I'd definitely want to see them again.

And there you have it. A great outing for just one festival, I'd say. Thanks to Eric and everyone involved in the series!


Garry said...

Believe it or not, I can still find some of that glitter/elan junk in my clothes....and my hair.

historyjen said...


The R.O.B. said...

Yeah, you missed a great show (the only one I saw) on Friday with the SPP... have you seen them before?

historyjen said...

Yeah, I've seen SPP a couple times, so didn't feel the need to see them again so soon. They put on a good show.