Last night, a bill consisting of two acts at C’est What had one thing in common; both were previewing lots of their new music. They were also good friends from Calgary; folk musician Noel Johnson is now based in Toronto, while Calgary is still the home base for the avant-pop band Sidney York.
The cozy atmosphere of C’est What worked well for Johnson, who played acoustic guitar alongside three band members playing electric guitar, bass and drums, respectively. While one couldn’t always hear Johnson’s acoustic over the other instruments, it did provide the key to making his music sound just a little bit different from the smorgasbord of folk recordings coming out of the Toronto area.
The mix for the band was fairly good, and thanks to that it made Johnson’s lyrics easy to comprehend. He had some great imagery, like in one song describing finding an island in the middle of a lake. Johnson also proved to be pretty great at turning a portion of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” into something way more intense than it was. There was also banjo in the song. Awesome.
Johnson’s set had one old song of his, with the rest being fairly new. His album will officially come out in April, but he was selling the new CDs at the show (and likely will in future shows, so if you want new Noel Johnson music, go see him live!).
Sidney York also had some new tunes to crowd-test. In their blog interview last year, bassoonist Krista Wodolet hinted that the songwriting this time around would more collaborative. The new songs are definitely proof that the hint was a good one. Wodolet and oboist Sheryl Reinhardt now play a bigger role in songs, with each contributing more vocals and instrumentals. The first new song featured Wodolet playing a synth line, and “Electrolove” had Wodolet, Reinhardt and lead singer Brandi Sidoryk all shuffling around playing the same keyboard.
Their set opened with “Tea As it Should Be” from Apocalyptic Radio Cynic, sounding bigger and badder than ever thanks to the help of drums, electric guitar and bass on top of the three main girls’ wide array of instruments. Excluding the aforementioned oboe and basson, there was occasionally another electric guitar, a ukulele and a French horn.
Sidney York played a healthy number of songs from their first album, but the new songs were so varied that one can only guess what their upcoming album, Hearts, will sound like. One song was heavy with electric guitar and bass, while “I Could Swim” managed to be extremely complex, with Sidoryk’s voice supported by skeletal sound before a swell of instruments made the last minute or so of the song pretty loud.
The audience liked the set enough to ask for an encore, so they finished off their set with “Cold in Here” and then the infectious, feel-good “Roll With Me.” The band’s energy never faltered, and watching Sidoryk, Reinhardt and Wodolet jumping around on stage and rapidly switching between instruments made the set as fun to watch as it was to listen.
Most importantly, though, Sidney York showed that fans should be quite excited about Hearts when it comes out later this year. If the rest of the album is as unpredictable as their new songs were, it should make for some very intriguing listening.