While this week, with the last-minute cancellation of Googa Mooga on Sunday,…
- Posted on Sep 13th 2011 2:15PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
WireImage for Good Housekeeping
Produced by indie label Arts & Crafts, the invite-only showcase is designed to introduce Canadian talent to industry insiders who might just be looking for new music to soundtrack their next film.
Moving this year's Festival Music House to the Mod Club, a venue actually meant for live music, was a wise move following last year's event at the Roosevelt Room, a supperclub-style lounge better suited to imbibing cocktails.
That's not to say that this year's edition (which kicked off last night and runs until Sept. 14) was without a dose of Hollywood glam -- the normally rock 'n' roll Mod Club was given a bit of a luxe makeover courtesy of some sleek white curtains, glimmering chandeliers, and black-clad servers circulating trays of gourmet hors d'oeuvres (when's the last time that happened at a concert?).
Each night of Festival Music House features five acts (selected from hundreds of submissions from across Canada) performing half-hour sets. Last night's opening included local indie-pop collective Hooded Fang and indie rockers Dinosaur Bones, with Vancouver folk-pop chanteuse Hannah Georgas, Ontario rockers the Midway State and hometown hip-hop hero K'naan.
While the Festival Music House concept is a laudable one, the emphasis on exclusivity tends to impede its end goal -- which is ostensibly to connect the performers with the people who can find their songs a home on celluloid. Unfortunately, many guests at the event often seem more interested in taking advantage of the bar or chatting their way through sets rather than paying attention to the performances themselves.
Those actually listening to the diverse array of talent onstage last night would have come away with a genuine appreciation of the depth of the Canadian music scene, from Georgas' rom-com-ready ballads to the Midway State's quiet-to-loud rock epics.
The acts that bookended the evening ultimately delivered the strongest performances of yesterday's showcase -- despite facing two very different receptions.
Tuneful popsters Hooded Fang had the disadvantage of being first up, playing to a largely empty room (no more than a few dozen attendees had arrived by the unfashionably early hour of 8PM) -- vocalist Lorna Wright took a lighthearted jab at the situation, quipping, "Everyone should come up really close -- I know there's not a lot of room up here, but..."
Too bad for those TIFF insiders who missed the local buzz band's set, though, given that Hooded Fang's retro-tinged pop would lend itself quite nicely to the soundtrack of a cool, quirky indie flick. To their credit, where many bands in their position might have just phoned it in, the sextet delivered an exuberant set that offered a glimpse of how they've grown from promising newcomers to an assured act with charm to spare.
Over the past year, principal songwriter Daniel Lee has become a more comfortable frontman and stronger singer, his baritone offset nicely by Wright's sweetly high harmonies on numbers like the trombone-bolstered 'Laughing.'
While Hooded Fang's strength lies in their ability to serve up instantly hummable melodies, their recent sophomore album, 'Tosta Mista,' pushes aside their more twee tendencies for a denser, wall-of-sound approach. That sound translates well in a live setting -- the band seemed perfectly at home on the large Mod Club stage, ably holding their own against the other, higher-profile acts on the bill.
As it turns out, even if no industry moguls were there in time to catch Hooded Fang's set, the band already has a contingency plan -- they're making their own movie. "We're making a short film," Lee said between songs. "If anyone's interested, come talk to us."
By the time headliner K'naan (who is set to enter the movie world himself with an acting role in the film adaptation of 'The Catastrophist') took the stage a good half-hour after his scheduled midnight start, the club had unsurprisingly filled up considerably, the room abuzz with anticipation of the rare chance to see the internationally renowned performer play such an intimate space as opposed to the huge venues he now commands. (Many attendees were also surely hoping Bono might still be in town to join the hip-hop star on stage for a repeat performance of their recent duet in support of Somalia famine relief.)
Despite making clear his unease with the "industry" aspect of the evening ("I know you're not supposed to say this to the audience, but this kind of thing is not my favourite thing to do," he admitted bluntly. "I don't want you to think about placements -- I want you to just feel something"), and admonishing the audience to stop talking and actually listen, K'naan still offered up a dynamic performance that set him far above the rest of the lineup.
Notwithstanding a sound mix that left his vocals less than sharp, K'naan's songs hit home with force, old hits like 'When Rap Gets Jealous' and 'Take a Minute' serving as a reminder that the man is a triple-threat: not only can he rap and sing equally well, at the heart of it all, he's a remarkable storyteller as well.
K'naan and his skilled band also used the opportunity to unveil four new songs they've been working on in the studio for a forthcoming album, hinting at an interesting new direction to his worldbeat-tinged hip-hop.
The new tunes seemed to lean towards quieter, introspective jams centered around a keyboard melody -- 'Golden Timbuktu' opened with a lounge-y piano line before making way for a hard-hitting rap, while 'More Beautiful Than Silence' emphasized K'naan's perceptive lyrics.
Given that he's been busy working on new material, it perhaps wasn't so surprising that K'naan chose to close out his set not with his anthem, 'Wavin' Flag,' but rather another new number (an upbeat, rousing tune that sounded like a hit in the making). Attempting to explain the need to air the new songs, he offered this sweetly amusing juxtaposition: "It's kind of like holding a newborn, and then putting it down and picking up your five-year-old."
K'naan's special sneak preview will be a hard act to follow, but Festival Music House continues tonight and tomorrow with the Sam Roberts Band and the Arkells headlining the next two nights. For the full lineup, click here.