by Michael Thomas
Royal Canoe seems to be developing a habit of playing strange bills at Lee’s Palace. But unlike their bill with the Sadies last year, the combination of the Winnipeg superstars with The Elwins and Language-Arts just worked.
It’s always nice when an opener is welcomed with open arms; such was the treatment for literary-pop band Language-Arts. The standard rock instruments + keyboards setup worked well to highlight vocalist Kristen Cudmore, who’s infectiously happy personality shone in her delivery as well as her stage banter.
In between long jams of meticulously precise percussion, dreamy keys and occasionally psychedelic guitars that made up the songs, Cudmore expounded on a slew of topics from stained clothing to bodily functions to musical notation jokes to an encouraging crowd.
Even when the instruments failed (particularly so in the closing number) the bands undeniable chemistry kept the charming atmosphere going for the frontrunners in the “Nicest band in the world” competition, the Elwins.
Most bands take a few seconds, maybe a deep breath or two, before beginning their sets. This is not the case with The Elwins. The recent Hidden Pony signings seemed to take about less than a second to pick up their instruments and launch into their first song.
Energetic doesn’t even begin to describe this band, who were full-out clapping and singing in harmony for their first song. The energy never dissipated, and though the set was largely composed of songs from their upcoming album (out early next year?) the audience was more than happy to oblige them.
The guys’ sunny personalities matched the brightness of their sunny pop, and as a result it wasn’t too hard to get the audience to sing and clap along. Shortly after whipping out their cover of Beyonce’s “Countdown” it was their last tune, “So Down Low.” Tragically, vocals cut out with about a minute left. They still made it work.
And finally, I’ll just come out and say it—I’ve now seen Royal Canoe enough times to say without hesitation that they are one of Canada’s best bands right now, and one of the few bands with a well-deserved success story. It’s rare that the public embraces such dense and complex music as Royal Canoe’s Today We’re Believers but that’s exactly what Toronto did.
Watching Royal Canoe live is like peering into a detailed machine. How many times did Derek Allard and Michael Jordan (no relation to the basketball player) switch sides on percussion? How many guitars did Bucky Driedger play in total? How many beads of sweat fell from Matt Peters? These are all questions without definitive answers.
The set of course was Believers heavy, starting with the title track before transitioning into the clap-along “Hold Onto the Metal.” The energy of “Bathtubs” was explosive, the hip-hop flavour of “Button Fumbla” got people grooving, as did “Stemming” and “Just Enough.” The band even threw in Extended Play gem “Bloodrush” and later one of their version of the Beck Song Reader number “We All Wear Cloaks,” giving the song a double-shot of Royal Canoe’s signature excellence.
With the audience along for the ride every step of the way, Royal Canoe ended their set only to return a minute later to raucous applause to play “Show Me Your Eyes” followed by “Nightcrawlin.”
It was a strange bill but a wonderful mix—suffice to say Toronto will welcome these bands again, no questions asked.