review and photos by Michael Thomas
Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewery has had a good thing going for a while now. They’ve been a sponsor of the local indie music scene for some time, and nowhere is this more apparent than when they bring three bands to them for their Steam Whistle UNSIGNED showcase, with all proceeds benefiting Artists’ Health Alliance.
Yesterday’s lineup all fit very well together—the first two acts brought the dance party, and the last act cooled everyone off with some soulful slow jams.
Opening was Toronto’s Paradise Animals, who, if you read this blog regularly, are personal favourites. This time around, the three-piece had a slightly different stage setup, with an extra set of percussion courtesy of a drum pad. As per usual, the three band members moved around constantly, with Mark Andrade switching between drums, keyboard and guitar, Kerri Silva going back and forth between the two drum kits and occasionally throwing on a guitar, and Gary Pereira rocking percussion and bass guitar.
Their set started with a ambient song that incorporated several vocal samples as well as Andrade and Silva’s vocals. Though the sound system drowned out the electronics whenever a guitar appeared in a song, the band didn’t lose the inherent groove of basically every song they played. “Tea Guide” made an early appearance and Andrade nailed the song’s passionate delivery, and the back-to-back EP tracks “Utility” and “Coastal Lines” really brought the dance party. As per usual, the set closed with the psychedelic “Day Fort,” (which now has a video), with begins with Andrade’s deep, smooth vocals over sparse but ominous synths before bringing in the full instrumentation. It culminates in the instrumental sections, with the extra percussion.The set never lost its groove, and it served well to prepare everyone for Maylee Todd.
If you’ve seen Maylee Todd before, you know what to expect, but her performances are never stale. This time around, Todd, who now sports blue-and-pink-coloured hair, began her set playing harp on the beautiful and dreamy “Successive Mutations.” The subdued song was a great way to ease into her energetic and soulful live set.
The majority of the set was Escapology material, featuring, among other songs, her wicked cover of “Pinball Number Count” and the mournful but powerful “I Tried.” Her home run of the set was definitely pairing “Baby’s Got It,” complete with backup dancers and choreographed dance moves in the chorus, with the feel-good “Hieroglyphics.” She ended her set with a Motown cover and brought in no less than a soul train, which people took to enthusiastically. The night’s host said it was the first time a soul train ever happened at a Steam Whistle show.
The night ended off with Montreal’s A K U A, who brought plenty of vocal and synth loops to her songs along with a live percussionist. After the frenetic dancing Maylee Todd’s set inspired, it was nice to groove along to Akua Caron’s soulful vocals and simple instrumentals. It was easy for her to bring the audience into a trance and the crowd loved every minute of it. Long live synth-soul.
It was a truly incredible choice of lineup this time around for the UNSIGNED series; there never seemed to be a moment that the audience wasn’t into what the bands were doing.