For the second year in a row, the Peak Performance Project kicked off in Surrey on Canada Day, with each one of the top twenty playing back to back (to back to back...) shows. At the Cloverdale Millennium Amphitheatre, The Peak set up side by side stages for each band to play 20 minute alternating sets.
And if that wasn't good enough, the main stage was running music all day, including a Bon Jovi tribute band, and culminating with Hannah Georgas and Sam Roberts Band. And all of this for free.
Since there was so much to see, I'll try to keep all the PeakPP bands brief.
beekeeper. The trio started off the whole day, a little nervous to start, but eased into it. As usual, they had a great energy, and did an excellent job of showing off all their talents -- including Brandi's opera voice. I would love to see them in the top five, but I worry their complex sound may be too "weird" or inaccessible for people. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how boot camp shapes them.
Redgy Blackout. One of the returning artists, they're back for their second year in a row. I was impressed by their upbeat, folk-pop sound last year, and they still have a great energy with catchy songs. I'm looking forward to see how they shape up after a second year of boot camp.
T. Nile. I had heard a lot about Tamara Nile before her inclusion in the project, but not a lot of songs from her. She was also a little nervous (as were many throughout the day) with a false start to one of her songs, but has a nice voice and is a solid musician; though I am not sure that I really find anything overly compelling about her, nothing that made her stand out from all the other folk-y singer/songwriters. I hope to be proven wrong during their showcase concert series in September, though.
The River & The Road. A folk band with a bit of a blues-rock streak (they even introduced one of their songs as a "folk gangster ballad") they put on a solid set and were all strong musicians, but again, I was not too sure what made them stand out. I liked them, but they were overshadowed even by some of the other acts later in the day. They also had a couple songs with the ever-increasing "singer playing a floor tom", which seems to be used more and more these days.
Ali Milner. One of my favourites going in, Ali is no stranger to music competitions, coming in third on CBC's Cover Me Canada last year. But her own songs are strong as well, both catchy and touching, and her amazing voice carries them so well. Ali had a bubbly, nervous energy between songs, but while playing was completely composed, and wrapped up with a Neil Young cover. I am hoping this will be the first year a female cracks the top three, and I am hoping it's Ali.
Mike Edel. A folky singer/songwriter, Edel is a good musician with strong songwriting, songs that start soft and then built to an intense ending. Surrounding himself with some good musicians, including Kiana Brasset on violin, he was another act that I liked, but maybe needs a bit more of an edge to pull away from the rest of the top twenty bands.
Dominique Fricot. Another returning artist (he was in the first year with his band The Painted Birds), the tallest man in Vancouver music is back this year as a solo act. With a backing band of Katie Schaan (Ciseaux) and Mike Young & Peter Lemon (The Matinee) his songs are earnest and heartfelt, with a bit of a 90s vibe to them. He also had a good stage presence, and Fricot is another one I wouldn't be surprised to see make the top five.
Jordan Klassen. Along with Fricot, Klassen has the slight advantage of a song already in rotation on The Peak, but that won't necessarily give either of them any edge. Klassen -- joined by a large band including keys, strings, and more -- filled the area with the rises and falls of his big, sweeping songs. He and his friends had a great stage presence and energy, with their obvious enthusiasm infectious. I would not be surprised at all to see him make the top three.
Maurice. Another returning act, and another one I ended up being very impressed by last year, JP has a knack of not only crafting heartfelt songs, but pouring out raw emotion while playing. And beyond that, the songs are ridiculously catchy. He's good a strong stage presence, too; even the technical difficulties of an "exploding" microphone mid-song didn't phase him. Maurice is another artist that I would like to see make the top five.
Headwater. I hadn't heard too much from the band before their set, but they ended up being one of my favourites of the day with their badass-roots-rock sound. The four-piece was joined Pat Steward (Odds) on drums and they had a great energy throughout the set, with their guitar player jumping all over, even off the amps a few times (he and Devon of beekeeper should have a rock-star-leap-off). I am definitely looking forward to seeing more from them in the competition.
The Fugitives. Another sort-of return, as Adrian Glynn was in the first year as a solo artist. On the surface they were a folk band, but they are harder to classify than that; with elements of Brendan McLeod's spoken word poetry included, they may be best described as "folk hop", and were an interesting sound I am interested to hear more from. They also had a bet running on their facebook page leading up to the event, resulting in Adrian covering Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" on the balalaika. Which was as hilarious as it sounds.
Alexandria Maillot. She was another returning artist, having been in the first year but ineligible to compete until now after they put an age requirement in place. She had a strong voice, and an upbeat, poppy sound, and while I always like a band with a keytar, I wasn't as engaged by her set as I was with the rest of the bands that day.
Portage & Main. It shouldn't be a surprise that they were another one of my favourites going in, and their short set just cemented that opinion. With Matt Kelly on keys, they pulled out all the stops for their set, transitioning seamlessly from one song to the next and getting the crowd to sing along. I am positive they won over a lot of people with their short set, and I would be very surprised if they don't make the top three.
Tough Lovers. They were a last minute replacement to one of the bands that had to drop out. With a bit more of a straight ahead rock sound, the band had a good energy, but were another one that I didn't really think stood out. Given the level of talent in this year's Project, it'll take more than just being "a good band" to win over some ear holes. Like the others, I am interested to see how bootcamp will shape them, and what their Showcase in September will sound like.
It was at this point where a hard decision had to be made; finish the rest of the top 20 bands, or saunter over to the main stage. As much as I wanted to see the last few bands, few can resist the allure of gorgeous Hannah Georgas. She was joined by some familiar faces, her backing band consisted of Andrew Braun, Robbie Driscoll, Rob Tornroos, and Tim Proznick.
Hannah teased her upcoming album with a handful of new songs, which sounded great, and definitely made the wait until October harder. There were a few familiar songs as well, including the older, and emotional "The National", and "Dancefloor", which got the crowd moving in the mud. She ended with "The Deep End" which -- for reasons only known to the sound guy -- was extremely heavy on bass, almost drowning out the ukulele and vocals.
And, as a random aside, the camera men on stage filming them for the big screen were very intrusive and distracting, at some points standing right behind Andrew, or next to Hannah, practically holding the camera in her face.
And finally, I can't think of many better ways to celebrate Canada Day than with Sam Roberts Band. Adorned in a Canadian Tuxedo (denim on denim), Sam took the stage with his band and launched into "I Feel You", and played for over an hour. From the high energy "Detroit '67" to the calmer "Without a Map", the set spanned Roberts' four albums, with lots of familiar songs; getting people singing along to "Hard Road" and asking "Where Have All The Good People Gone?"
Ended with the insane energy of "Them Kids", but was out for a couple more before the fireworks, including "Don't Walk Away Eileen"
Not only were Sam Roberts Band and Hannah Georgas as great as to be expected, but the day was a great start to the Peak Performance Project. I am sad I wasn't able to catch all the bands -- I hope to familiarise myself with those I missed soon -- and there were more than a few that I am interested in seeing after they go through music-bootcamp.