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... but two Corey Hart).
One random thing before starting, I don't know why, exactly, (well, okay, I do) but the Red Room seems to be very keen on manufacturing a line. Last night was the worst, as the line was the longest of all the showcases so far, but as of 9, when the first act was due on, the place still seemed empty. It was like there was more people in line than inside. It was just... weird.
But I digress. Kicking off the night was Steph MacPherson, whose lush, folk-pop sound was helped by a cello & upright bass, as well as Ajay from The Zolas on drums and Vince Vaccaro on guitar. Her voice was smooth and pleasant, and her sound somewhat reminded me of a Kathleen Edwards. She had a really good stage presence, getting the crowd involved, and her banter seemed pretty natural. Though each song had a similar sort of vibe to it. Even the one she prefaced as "most bitter" wasn't all that different than the rest. She closed with a cover of Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage", which I am not terribly familiar with, but it was quite a good cover. While she didn't quite blow me away, as some other acts have, but I would definitely want to see her live again.
Next up was Christopher Arruda, who was quite the change of pace. Coming out to a recorded monologue, he hit the keyboard chaotically right off the bat, with the rest of his band helping with a dark and vaguely apocalyptic sound. After a few songs, his band took a break, leaving Arruda alone at the keyboard. He introduced his cover without saying who it was and it took me a moment to place it... "Try Honesty" by Billy Talent. Despite that kind of challenging the "classic" part, it was a really good interpretation of the song (and I say that as someone who is not a fan of Billy Talent or that kind of screamo). There was an intensity to it that wasn't matched for the rest of the set, and really made me like the song. He did a couple more alone at the keys, keeping a slower pace, but when the band came back, the returned to the grandiose sound from the beginning of the set, which all seemed a bit similar. While I liked them, I think I liked the songs where it was just him better; those songs managed to have the same intensity, but just seemed to have more depth. To end off the set, the band took leave once again and Arruda finished off the set with another soft song on an acoustic guitar. It was a really cool set, and I would be interested to see him live again. Definitely had the best cover of the night, too.
At this point a whole gang of people flooded the stage to set up for the next set... clad in pajamas. It was Behind Sapphire who, upon starting their set shouted "Slumber party!" as the only explanation as to why, before launching into it. Their set was incredibly fun, though they also had a defined music style, with their funk-soul-pop sound and lead singers raspy voice -- which I (affectionately) likened to a Muppet at one point. They got everyone in the crowd moving on more than one occasion, and snapping along to their cover, which suited their sound, "1234" by Feist -- again, making me wonder about what constitutes as a "classic" (it's a good song, for sure, but is only a few years old). Between that, running through the crowd, and the lead singer singing into a megaphone, and a vase, they made for a very energetic and engaging set. It ended rather interestingly, too, with the Peak Space Cadets, who represent the band and had been dancing throughout the crowd, going to the front of the stage... and unleashing an onslaught of pillow-feathers. It was a really cool thing to see, but you have to feel for the people who had to clean it up (to the bands credit, they promised to help, and after the show I saw a few members who were)
And wrapping up the night, Said the Whale. I've heard some people mention that they shouldn't be in the project, and while I initially shared that opinion, the members still do have day jobs. They're not making a living off of the band, and just because they have been hard working and gotten their name out there doesn't mean they should be punished. That being said, I have complete faith that the judges will treat them as fairly as the rest of the bands. But as to their actual set, they seemed to have as much, if not more energy than I'd ever seen them, definitely on top of their game. Among their set was a brand new song, which I am pretty sure was their "Last Night" song, from the Bootcamp songwriting challenge. It was quite different, darker and more synth-driven , but it was cool to hear that kind of departure from their usual sound. Right before their cover, they mentioned not really ever having done covers (excluding their friends songs) and then went into a very Said-the-Whale-version of Paul Anka's "Put Your Head on my Shoulder", which was pretty awesome and hilarious. They ended the set with "Goodnight Moon", in which they had a little bit of help by way of members from The Zolas, We Are The City, Hey Ocean! and Aidan Knight jumping on stage with tambourines, bells and the sort.
The only thing was, the sound seemed a bit off. It sounded like there was something wonky with Tyler's mic, and the bass was a bit overpowering. I am not sure why, as the other sets sounded great, but there was a longer-than-usual break before they went on. I think it would have worked out better had they played before Behind Sapphire. Maybe it was the feathers. It wasn't enough to be distracting, or ruin the set, but it was noticeable.
Another tough call, but I think the winner of the night was Said The Whale. It was another pretty damn good night of music, as seems to be the trend. There has definitely been sets I've liked more (or less) than others, but I don't think there had been a single one so far that I have disliked.