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 pick. Though, I am actually kind of wondering if they dropped the "classic" part of it this year, or if the artists have had a very loose interpretation. There have been more than a few songs that are a little more modern and would certainly not be considered classic. But I digress.
It was the final night of the competition, and one that was different for me than all others. Every other night, there had been at least one act I had heard of and/or been a fan of before the competition, but for this one there was none. While I had heard bits and pieces from each artist, I was not all that familiar with any of them, so going in more or less a blank slate.
First up was Greg Sczebel, who had a pretty nifty stage setup, including a light board in the back. At first had song name, but ended up just being a bit more abstract designs. He had a kind of pop-jazz flavour to his sound, at times bringing out a small strings section of violins and a cello to help him out, and even Kyprios for a quick rap interlude in a tune. His classic Canadian cover was "Gimme Sympathy" by Metric, which was a pretty cool interpretation of it, in his own style. There were some strong covers that night, but that may have been my favourite. Part way through the set, the rest of the band took a break while Schzabel played alone for, appropriately, an anti-love song; a self described song for the single people. The band came back out and as they drew to an end, he played his Peak single, "Causin' A Commotion" and in the middle of the dance floor, his street team broke out into a synchronized, choreographed dance, and he jumped into the middle of them to end off the song. To cap off the set, he grabbed the keytar and a vintage metal microphone, but it ended in disappointment when he used the keytar for less than a minute, and the mic was auto-tuned. Especially disappointing as they were both on stage the entire time, waiting to be used, teasing us. He had a really strong stage presence, especially when he wasn't at the piano, but there was one small thing that bugged me. A nitpick, maybe, but something that bothered me nonetheless: he seemed to mug for the cameras a bit too much. A couple of times he sang directly into the peak camera man filming, and was posing or looking at the photogs up front. Doing that once or twice isn't that bad, be he seemed to do it more frequently. When you have a room full of people (including judges) you would think it be better to sing to them. But that minor thing aside, I really enjoyed his set and wouldn't mind seeing him live again.
Next up was YUCA, who were a late entry into the competition. While I by no means disliked them, they were probably the set I liked the least. Nothing offensive, but pretty generic "RAWK" with a lot of their songs sounded quite similar. They were good, but someone described them as a "radio rock band" and I would probably agree. I do have to commend them, though, for their cover. It was not a "classic"
, but while a lot of the bands in the project had been choosing things that were, if not the same sound, at least within their wheelhouse, Yuca stretched their legs the most. The cover they chose was "Powerless" by Nelly Furtado. Mind you, it did have that same sound as the rest of their songs, but kudos to them for not just choosing another rock song. (I had them pegged for OLP). Near the end of the set, they also had a couple members jump into the crowd with guitars, which seems to be the thing to do for the project, as it's happened a few times. Some of the times it happened werereally neat and natural, but others have seemed forced.
Again, they were not BAD, per se, just nothing memorable. They seemed talented enough, though, and I hope that the project will help them open up their sound a bit.
Third for the night was another repeat performer, Kuba Oms. He, like Adaline, earned entry through last years competition, placing in the top five (but not top three). He had a pretty good sound going, with a bit of soulful, roots-ness to him, but he also had the problem where a lot of the songs sounded a little too similar. His cover was "Twist My Arm" by The Tragically Hip, which was a perfectly fine cover. Near the end of his set he had a contingent of other PeakPP artists up at the side side stage to help out with vocals and/or have a dance party. Which turned out better for them than it did the random guy (I think?) who somehow made his way on stage and tried to sing backup vocals before being given the hook by security
Finally, even though the whole night was running a little later than usual, Kyprios hit the stage to close out the night, and the showcase series. Hitting the stage with a ten (!) piece backing band, called The Chaperones, and all dressed to the nines, he took control of the stage from the first note. Imagine taking a hip hop artist and dropping him into the middle of a 50s jazz club, because that is the vibe he gave off. He kept up the energy throughout the whole set, which was very captivating. Part way through, he started off his Canadian cover just with his DJ mixing together some classic (real classic) Canadian songs -- which I thought was going to be all, and felt cheated -- before he went in to "Sweet City Woman" by The Stampeders. Which was a pretty great cover. Plus, I don't think I ever have, or ever will see a banjo played during a hip hop act. Near the end of the set, he pulled out a bag of lighters and candles, handing them through the crowd and asking for the stage lights to be turned off, for a candlelit song for lost friends. Surprisingly, the roof did not end up on fire (only figuratively). He ended the set by blasting his stage lights back on and a song called "This Is My Hit", which had the crowd going nuts. I had heard various praise for Kyprios before his set, especially from some of the other artists in the Project, and I have to say, he certainly lived up to the hype.
Again, it was a tough call for the winner of the night, but I liked Greg Sczebel's cover better than Kyprios', but I will have to go with him. And that, my friend, is it. I am not quite sure what I am going to be doing with my Thursday nights now.
I may do a kind of wrap up post, but in case I don't: voting for the artists has begun, you can vote right here, but be warned! You can only vote once, so choose wisely. The voting is open until October 18 and a portion of each artist's total mark comes from online voting. The top five will be revealed at 3:15 on November 1st on The Peak at 3:15pm, and the grand finale show will take place at the Commodore Ballroom November 18, where we will find out the winner. One last good luck to all involved!