Friday, September 17, 2010

The Peak Performance Project Showcase #2 @ The Red Room -- 09/16/10

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars.
Last year it was won by We Are The City, and they have barely slowed down since winning. This year it seems like the competition is a lot tougher; at least half the bands I have either liked before the contest, or have grown to like because of it. I definitely do not envy the judges on who should take it come November.
Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat where industry pros helped them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set, which includes a cover of a classic Canadian song. I always love it when bands play covers live, so that is one aspect I am definitely looking forward to. That, and seeing who everyone picks (I am going to keep a running tally on how many Neil Young and Leonard Cohen songs we get -- so far, one Young, no Cohen).

I fully admit, going into the P3, I had a few artists that I was already fans of, so I may have a bias towards. One of those is Aidan Knight, whose album Versicolour I am in love with. He came out with his backing band, The O'Darlings, but without a drummer -- only having a couple floor toms on stage with them. Kicking the set off with "The Sun", he then went through a few new songs, visibly excited and enthusiastic to be there and playing for us. A few times through the set, he chatted to the crowd, with his own humble banter that comes across more charming and funny than awkward. Another new song featured some borrowed Simon & Garfunkel lyrics, and is a song I hope to hear recorded very soon. After intense endings to both "North East South West" and "Knitting Something Nice For You" he played his classic Canadian cover, which was a really slowed down and melancholy version of "The Light Is You" by Said The Whale. While is was a great cover, I do have to question its status as "classic" song. He ended the set as he usually does, with "Jasper", which had the whole crowd singing along with him from the beginning, and then to cap off the song, he jumped into the crowd with his guitar, surrounded by people singing. It was a pretty amazing sight, and just helps prove why he is one of my top picks to win the whole project.

Next up was Yes Nice, who I had heard a little of and was looking forward to. But the first half of their set, they seemed really unenthusiastic, almost like it was more of a chore for them to be there; not even talking very much. But half way through they broke out their Canadian cover, the theme song to The Raccoons, which was pretty awesome and full of energy. The rest of their set kept it up, and if their whole set had the same level to it -- or at the very least, mixed it up a bit -- I would have liked the set a lot better. Once they got into that groove, they were a lot more enjoyable to watch. They ended with "Horses", the most upbeat and poppy song about the apocalypse I have ever heard, which even had the chorus projected on the wall, for a sing-a-long... but after the natural one for Aidan, it seemed maybe a little forced. They also wove through the crowd before the set, sneakily putting small pieces of blue tape on people, and when they hit the stage, they too were adorned with tape. I am not really sure what that was about, but... it was something.

Debra Jean and the Means was third of the night, with Debra Jean Creelman being formally of Mother Mother. Both her and her backing band were all very talented, but there was just something... missing. They had a very eerie and creepy rock sound, but it was a little... "generic" is too negative of a word, but it just didn't strike me. She also didn't use her range very much, at least until her cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", which she brought out a small brass section for. I've heard really good and really bad covers of that song, and this was definitely the former; probably even the best cover of the night. She had an excellent stage presence, though, owning the mic for every song. While I don't want to say they were bad in the least, I was just a little underwhelmed.

Wrapping up the night was Parlour Steps, who had a VERY upbeat and energetic set; probably the most of the night. Though again, they didn't have much by way of banter, they seemed very comfortable and confident on stage. At one point, they passed out egg-shakers to some people in the front for crowd participation, which is always a nice touch when bands do that sort of thing. The only thing was they did have a bit of a similar feel to a lot of their songs, even their cover of The Northern Pikes song "Teenland", but with their kind of power-pop, that isn't necessarily a detriment to their set.
After they wrapped up their alloted 45 minutes, some people in the crowd were chanting for an encore, so the lead singer came out and said that out of respect for the other bands, they would not be doing one. Which I found very classy and applaud them for doing so. It wouldn't have been fair to the rest, and that definitely improved my opinion of the band.

And so the winner of the showcase number two? Aidan Knight. I would like to think that Knight did not win because of my previous bias, but rather I have the bias because he puts on shows like this. I am really hoping he makes it far the contest.
Next week is another stacked week, with Christina Maria, 41st and Home, Ben Sigston and Adaline. Should be a good one!

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