Two and a half years ago, I went down to the Biltmore to hear this newfangled Vancouver band called Said The Whale. The show was some sort of pre-Olympics celebration, and as part of the "Cultural Olympiad", had a range of musicians, from Vancouver's STW to the Inuit Lucie Idlout to the band that played between the two, some French Canadian band I had vaguely heard of from CBC Radio 3. Turns out that night would be the beginning of my infatuation with Montréal's Karkwa. To this day I am still pretty sure that they blew out a speaker at the show, and from that night on I would rave about them to anyone that listened, and was definitely rooting for them for last year's Polaris Prize, and was thrilled when they won. And even though I had seen them once more since then, for a free show during the actual Olympics, I was more than ecstatic to see them in what was their first real Western Canadian tour. Especially because they had wrangled a couple opening acts that I would have seen on their own.
The first of which was The Belle Game, who I always enjoy seeing play, despite the fact that I've managed to see them four times in the last three months. Unfortunately I got in a couple songs late, but still caught the last half of their set, with "Shoulders & Turns" and their single, as part of the Peak Performance Project, the infectious "Sleep To Grow". They ended quite dynamically, as they are wont to do, with a newer song tentatively titled "We Left This Home", with Andrea pounding on the floor tom, front and centre, and guitarists Adam & Alex both almost getting right into the crowd for the finale.
There was also a neat moment where Katrina, who is originally from Montréal, addressed the crowd en français, to express how grateful they were to be sharing the stage with next two acts. (I think, at least. My French is limited to what I remember from Téléfrançais)
Second up was Aidan Knight, who is also a huge fan of Karkwa -- he even mentioned being at the same previous Biltmore show during his set -- and was visibly thrilled to be opening for them. It was a bit of a unique set for Aidan, as he had a bit of a different band backing him. Olivier and Julia were, as usual, on horns and keys, but they were only joined by Hannah Epperson on violin and Katie Schaan on cello. It gave the set a sound that was somehow both richer and more minimalistic.
Starting off with "Knitting Something Nice", the set also consisted of a few new songs, including one as-of-yet unnamed one with just Hannah (Aidan asked for suggestions as to the name, but I don't think he liked mine: "In Love With A Trumpet Major") and the heartbreakingly beautiful "Margaret Downe". And, of course, no Aidan Knight show is complete without his charmingly awkward stage banter. They ended, as per usual, with "Jasper", which had the crowd singing along, and some amazing strings to go along with it.
And then, it was time for Karkwa. Every once in a while I worry that I have psyched myself up for a show too much, and that the only possible outcome would be disappointment. But Karkwa hit the stage, double drummers and all, and my fears were immediately quashed when they launched into "Le Pyromane" to begin the set. The band has an absolutely incredible intensity as their wall of sound washes over you with driving guitars -- including some incredible solos -- and dual drummers who play off each other perfectly. Highlights of the set included the upbeat "Marie Tu Pleures", which had everyone clapping along, the somewhat dark "Le Bon Sens" and definitely "La Façade", which is up there as one of my favourite songs. After "Le Compteur" drove home their main set, they were back for another pair, ending the night with "Oublie Pas", and leaving the crowd drained, with faces melted off.
It was a show that will absolutely end up as one of my favourites of the year, and cemented Karkwa as one of my favourite bands; especially to see live. Connecting with an audience is hard enough without a language barrier, and it is a testament to the band, and Louis-Jean, that they were able to keep the crowd completely enthralled throughout the set. Earlier in the evening Aidan Knight mentioned that, cheesy as it sounded, Karkwa's music transcends the boundaries of language, and I couldn't agree more. I just hope that the packed venue (on a Tuesday night, no less) showed Karkwa that they have more then enough of fans in the west, and that they'll be back soon.
Le Pyromane, L'Acouphène, Échapper au sort, L'épaule Froide, Les Chemins De Verre, Dormir Le Jour, Le Bon Sens, La Façade, Marie Tu Pleures, Le Compteur.
[encore] Moi-léger, Oublie Pas.