by Michael Thomas
There must be a cynicism bug going around this blog, because last night I was feeling a little out of it until the final act ended the night on a high note.
My problem was that there was always, in my mind, a huge disconnect between either a) what kind of crowd I thought an act would get and what they actually got or b) the way I thought a crowd would act and the way they end up acting. To be fair, at Canadian Music Week this isn’t entirely the fault of people going to shows. There are tons of great acts all sectioned off into different shows, and one person cannot see every band they want to.
I ended up staying at the Great Hall for four bands last night, all of whom I was excited to see.
Starting the night off was Mo Kenney, the exceptionally talented young singer-songwriter whom Joel Plaskett has taken under his wing. I thought for sure that there would be a bigger group of people than there was to see her, but the small group (which did have at least a few friends of hers) redeemed itself with the amount of enthusiasm they put forth.
Kenney performed solo all the way through, with just her acoustic guitar. She played lots of songs from her self-titled debut like “Eden,” “Sucker” and “Five Years.” It was a little unfortunate that she didn’t have any kind of backing band, only because it might have made a difference when she played “Scene of the Crime” (which, recorded, features Plaskett playing fuzzy guitar) and would have enabled her to play her catchiest song, “Deja Vu.”
Her self-effacing manner made her a quiet but funny presence. She mentioned that she wrote “Sucker” when she was dumped by someone and also drunk, and she only introduced herself at the beginning of her set as simply “Mo.”
Next up was Toronto rock duo Mad Ones. I had never heard their music before, but was excited by Eleni’s review of their EP Burning Window. They definitely delivered on what Eleni wrote about, starting right off the bat by making a lot of noise with just drums and guitar.
If I wasn’t annoyed enough that barely anyone saw Mo Kenney, I noticed that the crowd response was tepid for the majority of the set, which was unfortunate considering the sweaty rock energy the two guys were giving off. Andrew DeVillers showed even more passionate energy in some later tracks. In fact, the one song they said was fairly new turned out to be the strongest part of their set list. It was encouraging that, a few songs before they finished, DeVillers asked the audience to come forward and they unhesitatingly obliged.
The audience got even bigger for PS I Love You, a band I had never seen live until yesterday. Paul Saulnier on guitar and Benjamin Nelson on drums make a really dynamic duo- Saulnier’s crazy vocals and command of the guitar mesh well with the quiet power that Nelson puts out while he drums.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to really get into them and their own personal brand of rock. When they launched into “Sentimental Dishes” a little later, Saulnier showed off his guitar virtuosity as his fingers blazed across his fretboard, which is bizarrely something one doesn’t see nearly as often in live music anymore. At another point he played the guitar behind his head briefly. They’re a duo that everyone should see live at least once in their life.
And then came the performance that stopped me from going home bitter and disappointed by audience-artist disconnect facilitated by CMW’s vastness. Coming on (in what must be a CMW first) five minutes early, in black outfits with yellow armbands (the outfit synchronicity may have been a bit much), was Wildlife. I turned my head briefly and saw that the Great Hall had suddenly become packed.
The six-piece band launched with ferocity into …On the Heart‘s lead single, “Born to Ruin.” It was as though the band couldn’t contain their energy as they proudly played their instruments and sang. The audience immediately got into it and cheered loudly after every song was finished.
It was this perfect balance that had me leaving the Great Hall happy; Wildlife played their material with such passion and vigour that it was impossible to ignore, and the crowd loved every minute of it.
The set consisted largely of …On the Heart tracks. It was the first time Wildlife had played a lot of them, but none of the tracks sounded rough around the edges. The band had a lot of success with upbeat tracks “One for the Body” and “Bad Dream.” The attack of keys, three guitars and drums proved to be a fierce one, and the band’s anthemic songs became even more so when played live.
They ended their set with Strike Hard, Young Diamond track “Killing For Fun.” It was a perfect moment near the end of the song as the band stopped playing their instruments and listened to the audience loudly sing the part of the song back to them.
Wildlife have something very special in them, and one can only hope that every show they put on in the future will be as spectacular as last night’s was. My CMW adventures are now halfway done.