by Elena Gritzan
The beginning of the week is not normally associated with concert-going, and that is one of the greatest things about Elvis Mondays, a long-running weekly showcase of indie talent at the Drake Hotel. No cover and little to no announcement of the performing bands makes for an adventurous and often surprising evening of music. This week’s edition was a little different (it was actually Elvis Monday-on-a-Sunday), as it was part of a month-long residency by local band Papermaps. The party poppers handpick their opening acts, different each week, and then play a set of their own feel-good music.
The night began with Ryan Guay, frontman of Street Pharmacy, playing with just his acoustic guitar to accompany him. He claimed that he was more nervous playing the Drake Underground to twenty people than he was playing to 4000 while opening for Blue Rodeo the week before. If he had not said so, I never would have guessed: his vocal delivery sounded confident and conversational.
Montreal’s Jenn Mierau began the second set of the night with a haunting song using just keyboard and voice. Vocally, she sounds rich and emotive, but the first song was actually not a good indication of what you are in for later: she brings in Wurlitzer, a sampler and loop pedals to make percussive beats and swirls of sound to accent her piano-based singer-songwriter melodies. Her most recent album’s title track, “Hush”, began with layers of vocal noises to create the percussion – the total effect sounds something like beat boxing, but she builds it layer by layer right in front of your eyes.
She moved on to covers for the middle of her set, giving renditions of The Cure’s “Lovesong” and Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel” (the latter, of course, to celebrate the namesake of the Elvis Mondays showcase). Her covers sound strikingly different from the originals due to her inventive instrumentation and arrangements. Mierau is stunningly creative and not just musically either: her set is accompanied by live visuals and the album art is a recreation of a giant rug-hooked self-portrait.
Papermaps also started their set solo and simple, with frontman Dean Marino playing by himself, starting with “Autumn Flower”, a song he wrote earlier in the week. Normally, you expect to see a calm and beautiful solo song played with an acoustic guitar, so it added a bit of sonic interest to hear Marino’s electric strumming alongside his vocals. He launched into “Wishful Thinker” from their self-titled album, during which he was sequentially joined on stage by the rest of the band, first Wendy Leung on keyboards, then Betty Dimo on bass and Bobby Lee on drums. The transition to a louder, poppier sound changed the energy in the room and carried everyone on an optimism high through to the end.
The hooks are catchy, the lyrics relatable, and Marino and Leung’s often doubled vocals add layers of interest. They delved into some newer material from their forthcoming EP (you can celebrate with them at a release show on August 28 at the Horseshoe), and finished with “Reunion”, perhaps indie rock’s catchiest gang-vocal laden tune. Normally, “straightforward indie rock” would not be a compliment coming from me, but Papermaps embody the genre while remaining refreshingly charming and incredibly uplifting.
You have one more chance to catch their Elvis Mondays residency at the Drake: on August 6th, they will play with Leung’s side project Wendy Versus opening.