Thursday, March 18, 2010

Canadian Musicfest w/ Plants & Animals, Think About Life, The Brother Kite, that's the spirit, Maylee & PEGWEE POWER!! (March 12-13, 2010)

Maylee & PEGWEE POWER!!: photo by Michael Ligon
  Maylee & PEGWEE POWER!!: photo by Michael Ligon

Plants & Animals [MySpace] (March 12, 12 am, Lee's Palace): I already recounted how my Friday night during last week's Canadian Musicfest had started out. I ended up in line at Lee's Palace, optimistic I'd get in to the Billions/Chromewaves showcase but after waiting in line for an hour and half (and missing both The Russian Futurists' and The Acorn's sets) I just about threw in the towel, but fortunately the friendly people in line kept my spirits up and finally I got in just in time for Montreal trio Plants & Animals' set. I'd first seen them live during the 2008 Canadian Music Week festival at the Horseshoe (a bill which coincidentally also included The Acorn) but wasn't immediately impressed. They displayed a good amount of energy but their jammy qualities weren't in line with my musical tastes at the time. However, the strange thing is I ended up seeing them live in a park in Barcelona, Spain (as part of the Primavera Sound Festival), and maybe partially it had to do with the favourable response from the Spaniards, but Plants & Animals displayed such a 'joie de vivre' that pretty much converted me on the spot. Since then I'd also seen them perform live on the third stage at last year's Virgin Festival @ Molson Ampitheatre which was equally as enticing as their set in Barcelona. Last week's set at Lee's Palace showed the trio grateful to be playing in Toronto again. Their new album "La La La Land" set for release on April 20 provided most of the set's song choices, although the set did give nods to their debut like fan favourite "Faerie Dance" (and of course, it's audience singalong part of 'la-la-la-la la-la la-la la'). Although, the trio still possess a jam-my streak, it's something I'm less critical about these days, as the band seems to balance it nicely with equitable forays into more conventional pop songwriting. Energetically performed to the point of sweat-soaked shirts, the slight warble in the vocals of lead singer Warren Spicer complimented nicely the textured guitar strums and melodies and vibrant rhythm section.

Photos: Plants & Animals @ Lee's Palace (March 12, 2010)

Think About Life [MySpace] (March 12, 1 am, Lee's Palace): Montreal's Think About Life were the final band of the night for me. I'd been meaning to see them live based only on the good things I'd read about them and never ever hearing a note of them. Comprised of vocalist Martin Cesar, keyboard/guitarist Graham Van Pelt, drummer Matt Shane and bassist/vocalist/dancing girl Caila Thompson-Hannant, I was immediately drawn to their DIY-soul-pop-funk. Vocalist Martin Cesar wearing dark sunglasses exuded pure charisma in his stage presence, while bassist Caila was most appealing when she broke out into free-spirited dance moves, at times providing co-vocals as she cozied up to Martin. Musically, they remind me of a less-sample-happy Go Team!, mining a similar territory in their collision of pop, soul, and funk filtered through a DIY aesthetic. Performed loose and fun, and hey what was not more fun than when guitarist Van Pelt broke out into a Theme From Shaft-like guitar line, the crowd was eating every little bit up. When Cesar jumped down to the floor to get up close and personal with the crowd it was only icing on the cake. The band's most recent full-length entitled "Family" is out now.

Photos: Think About Life @ Lee's Palace (March 12, 2010)

The Brother Kite [MySpace] (March 13, 10 pm, Rancho Relaxo): A later start to Joanna Newsom's set over at the Phoenix meant that any 9 pm Canadian Musicfest plans were now shot. By the time Ms. Newsom's set ended and the time that it took to take the streetcar over to Rancho Relaxo I had about 20 minutes to spare before Providene, RI's The Brother Kite took the stage. The five member(4 guys, 1 girl) outfit specialized in a sound that was as much in debt to shoegaze as it is to Brian Wilson. What you get are spright melodies sung with buoyancy and musical instrumentation that straddles a line between a shoegazey textures and more cleaner sonics. While there was a respectable quantity of patrons in the establishment, I didn't feel the repsonse was overly enthusiastic which is very much a shame. The Brother Kite are very much a genre band ie. indiepop, shoegaze, what-have-you which is always a difficult thing to overcome, but if a slightly similar band like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart can experience a certain amount of exposure and success, I'd think with some good promotion, The Brother Kite have bright things to look forward to.

Photos: The Brother Kite @ Rancho Relaxo (March 13, 2010)

that's the spirit (March 13, 11 pm, Rancho Relaxo): The last time I'd seen Ottawa's that's the spirit was at last year's NXNE as a duo featuring songwriter Ben Wilson on guitar/vox and friend Tom Thompson on pedal steel/guitar. It was a relatively hushed set of intricate, introspective pop, reminiscent of Red House Painters. For this year's Canadian Musicfest, Ben and Tom rounded out the band with a drummer and bassist, in turn amping up the volume and the rock. Ben sings in a somewhat introverted tone reminiscent of The Shins' James Mercer, so even while the full band performance provided a bit more grit and volume at times, they're hardly AC DC. But that's quite alright with me; we need introvertedness in music sometimes because really that's where some of the best music comes out of. Visually, they're kind of non-descript looking as a band and didn't exude much stage presence but thankfully they make up for it musically.

Photos: that's the spirit @ Rancho Relaxo (March 13, 2010)

Maylee & PEGWEE POWER!! [MySpace] (March 13, 12 am, Bread & Circus): The final act of the night and the festival for me was a local act I'd been meaning to see live for some time, called Maylee & Pegwee Power!! And wow, what a way to end! Coming out of left-field, the pixie-ish lead vocalist Maylee Todd broke all expectations I had of her, proving herself to be one of the most dynamic vocalists and performers Toronto has to offer. With her three-member band Pegwee Power which featured a drummer, stand-up bassist, and multi-instrumentalist(keyboards, trumpet, and at one point an old-school Sony walkman), Maylee (at times on guitar and harp) led the group through a variety of musical genres from Astrud-Gilberto-inflected jazz-pop, James Brown-like soul numbers, garage-y pop song, and pristine harp-augmented folk tunes. But it's not just the variety of musical genres tackled that is impressive but the fact that she can do them well and make each song feel so natural. It was one of the sleeper sets of Canadian Musicfest and one of the best Toronto music revelations I've had in a long time. What better way to end my Canadian Musicfest on that high note. Fortunately for you all, she'll be playing around town over the next two months with her next show being at The Drake on March 25. Do check her out.

Photos: Maylee & PEGWEE POWER!! @ Bread & Circus (March 13, 2010)

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