Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Mar 24th 2012 2:05PM by Dave Jaffer
With Broken Social Scene on "indefinite hiatus," there's a hole in the middle of the Arts & Crafts records roster. Broken Social Scene has always been a sort of metonym for Arts & Crafts -- without them, the venerable Toronto label was left with something of an identity crisis.
This brought intrigue to last night's CMW/CMF showcase at the Horseshoe Tavern as the label looks to acts including the Darcys, Zeus and Dan Mangan to become the new face of the franchise.
Snowblink opened the night, so Daniela Gesundheit's voice was the first instrument on display. Her breathy vocals cut through the room like a scimitar, and she had antlers coming out of her guitar.
"Is it too hot in here to play a Bruce Springsteen song?" she asked, before launching into an interesting cover of 'State Trooper,' which balanced the darkness of the original with a robust, more upbeat vibe. Snowblink brought newness to an old song, but thankfully, the hoots and shrieks were in the right places. Gesundheit's laissez-faire stage presence was winning -- when she said things like, "I don't surf, but I covet that skill," you believed her. During the last few songs of the set, Snowblink played with tech a bit, looping some vocals. This was a theme of the evening.
Gold & Youth, formerly the Raccoons, began with a song featuring pulsating drum beats atop shimmery darkness. Some technical affectations (echo vocals, programmed beats) seemed out of step with their natural ability, but they experiment with blending elements and should be complimented for their ambition. The interplay between synth and keys mimicked the interplay between the guy/girl vocals of Matthew Lyall and Louise Burns, and the songs were anchored by a techy, dark, Austra-tinged vibe. It was pleasant, but maybe not as varied as one would like.
Eight and a Half, Liam O'Neil and Dave Hamelin's new project with BSS drummer Justin Peroff, is probably indicative of whatever differences in creative directions derailed the Stills. Their band's sound suggested once again that post-BSS, Arts & Crafts is aiming to be about something newer, darker and more synthetic.
Hamelin's stage presence was strong but strange; he was playing slower, thoughtful music that rested directly on his vocals and delivery, but he was writhing and gesticulating like a punk rocker. His voice, lyrics and guitar are seemingly the crux of this band. Most of that is experienced enough, but the songs' lyrical content left something to be desired. Lines like "I'm floating in the ocean / I'm going with the flow" ring hollow unless delivered with a kind of naivite. They weren't.
O'Neil seemed tragically underused, though he did comment afterwards that he feels incredibly busy while onstage. Still, their set was possibly defined by a publicist friend who quipped, "It sounds like something that I already know."
At midnight, everything changed. If the first three acts showcased what Arts & Crafts were going to be about, the last three reminded us there's still some rock and fun in the hopper. The Darcys crushed the room, turning the loud, sweaty crowd into a frothing frenzy.
From their arrangements to their chemistry, their passion to their pathos, the Darcys have it. They ooze ability and quiet confidence, and unlike some of the earlier bands, they know that effects pedals are like semi-colons. They're there to be utilized but not overused. "If you don't have our music, you can download it for free at thedarcys.ca," we were told. That site is probably overcapacity right now.
Zeus know that they're probably the most fun band on every bill they play on. This is not to detract from their abilities, which are myriad -- just to say that when Zeus is onstage, you get the feeling they put a premium on entertaining their audience first and being talked about second. Their best-known song, 'Marching Through Your Head,' was delivered with fervor and good-natured sass. This set the tone for much of the rest of the set, which was equally about Say Us and their new album Busting Visions.
Closing the night was Dan Mangan, whose powerful raspy baritone was the best instrument of all. Songs from Nice, Nice, Very Nice and Oh Fortune both received their due. The high point of his evening is the high point of every Mangan set: the crowd sing-along to 'Robots' that everyone knew was coming, but which everyone was excited for nonetheless.
The songs from Oh Fortune were dynamic; they didn't all rely on Mangan's vocals. Whatever Mangan saved in the process he gave back to the audience. A cover of Elliott Smith's 'Waltz #2' here; crowd-surfing there; a standing-on-a-table-in-the-middle-of-the-crowd bit at 3:40 a.m. that got us all involved and righteous. It was niceness, writ large.