Friday, September 24, 2010

The Peak Performance Project Showcase #3 @ The Red Room -- 09/23/10

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).

This week was unique, in that each of the artists I had heard before this years project, and each one I was looking forward to seeing, in varying degrees. First up was Christina Maria, who I was quite interested in seeing live. She hit the stage in a sequin dress and launched into her single "Carolina", immediately wowing the crowd. A couple songs in, there was some technical difficulties, causing the mics to turn off, but she finished the song like a pro. Then after waiting for a minute or two, she decided to just keep on going, shushing the crowd (which in itself was no small feat) and starting the next song just at the front of the stage, unamplified. It was a really cool moment, and she gets points for rolling with the problems. Midway through the song, the problem was fixed and they just kept going. She looked completely natural on stage, and had great charisma & presence, not to mention a really good energy, eliciting a sing-a-long from the crowd. There was also an overhead projector with images throughout the set, but I'm not sure how many people were paying attention, as it was off to the side. And a mbira made a brief appearance for a song. As for her cover, she broke out the Bruce Cockburn (not Barenaked Ladies) classic, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time". It was a pretty good version of it, which she made her own, but not really straying too far from the original (or BNL version, for that matter).
She was definitely impressive live, and based on the sets I've seen so far, I wouldn't hesitate to put her in the top five.

Second up was 41st & Home, who I saw at their CD release party (that they didn't even play last at, for some reason). They had a really rich sound, with good energy and intensity, but a few songs may have been a bit.. similar-y. Good, absolutely, but maybe just a little lacking. Their cover was Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway", which was a bit more of a mellow and slowed down version. It was definitely an interesting interpretation of it. From then, they played a couple songs that were a bit slower paced, before closing the set with "Sleeper", which had the members came up to the front, one by one, for a sing-a-long to the ending. They, too, all seemed pretty comfortable on stage, and seemed to even relax more as the night went on; there wasn't much banter, especially at the beginning, but by the end they were joking around a bit more. And visibly enthused at being there. Though the set was quite good, there were still times you could tell they were a relatively new band, and I have no doubt given time, and a larger catalogue of songs, they'll be great. 

Next up was a veteran of the Project, Ben Sigston. He was in last years and reapplied for this years, making it in by a hair, after two of the initial twenty dropped out. He had members of Familia as his backing band, and the first song almost had a bit of a bluesy-roots feel to it, but over the set he kind of went in a variety of directions with his sound. While nothing ever seemed out of place, I think I liked his more rootsy stuff better than the rest. He did seem pretty charismatic, too, even if he didn't talk all that much (and sharply dressed, as seemed to be a theme for the night). His cover was "Still Believe in Love" by Jacksoul, which was good, but I am not overly familiar with the original, so I can't speak to how different it sounded. Like 41st & Home, I think he's got a great potential, and maybe just needs a little more work. Hopefully this Project will be a great help to them.

And closing up the night, Adaline. She was another repeat entrant, but she was automatically entered by making the top 5 last year (though not the top three). Despite liking her music since then, I had somehow never seen her live, so I was glad to remedy that. As the stage was set with smoke and lasers (and mannequins) she came out while her backing band (which included Laura Smith and Robbie Driscoll) and proceeded to blow the crowd away. Her strong voice seemed like it should have clashed with her electronic-infused rock, but it really worked. After a few songs, she pulled out the into-the-crowd trick, deciding to do a whole song with her keyboard in the middle of the dance floor. Though there was a bit of a miscommunication, so the set came to a halt as they had to move the keyboard between songs. She played it off a bit, but it definitely hurt the momentum of the show (especially since, as she was last, it was past midnight) and the song was a bit of a slower one. But the transition back on stage was a lot more smooth, and they brought back the energy to end off the set. Which included her cover of "Sunglasses At Night" by Corey Hart, definitely the best cover of the night.
(So while the Leonard Cohen count is zero, and the Neil Young count is one... the Corey Hart count is two?)
Adaline also major points for being in a car accident earlier that day, and not letting her affect the show in the least. Had I not known about it, I never would have guessed by her performance. She is definitely another strong contender for

This may have been the best overall week of sets, and while it was a tough call, I think Christina Maria won the night, even with great performances all around. Next week should be another good night, with Steph Macpherson, Christopher Arruda, Behind Sapphire and Said the Whale playing!

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