Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help 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. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).
And going in to this, I'm not going to pretend I don't have biases; there are bands this year I am familiar with and bands that I am already a big fan of, and this showcase was, at first glance, the one I was looking forward to the most.
Ali Milner: The jazzy-pop sounds of Ali Milner started off not only the night, but the showcase series. Her backing band included some familiar faces; Erik P.H. Nielsen on bass and Rob Tornroos on guitar. I've seen Ali play a few times in recent months, and I would have to say this is the best set I've seen her play. Behind the keys with her gorgeous voice, her bubbly personality is infectious, and it translated into a fun and upbeat set, with dynamic songs like "Fly".
Ali is no stranger to covering Canadian singers, and her cover wasn't new, rather a song that she's had in her repertoire for a few years, "After the Gold Rush" by Neil Young. It was a good cover, but I was hoping she would do something new.
The set ended with "Waiting", which saw Ali take out a box of egg shakers part way through the song and jump into the crowd to distribute them for people to play along -- and they all had numbers on them, with one lucky person winning some merch.
I genuinely hope that Ali makes the top three -- which would make her the first female to crack the top three -- but I have a feeling this is going to be the hardest year to predict the outcome.
beekeeper: With the lights dimmed, and a robotic voice introducing them, the trio of Devon Lougheed, Luke Cyca and Brandi Sidoryk hit the stage with a high energy and did not looking back. Their genre-bending "math rock" may be hard to keep up with due to the frantic arrangements and seemingly constantly changing time signatures, but drummer Luke anchors them magnificently, and they put on one hell of a live show, which is either absolutely brilliant or incomprehensibly weird. Or both.
Devon was more focused on stage than I've seen him, especially between songs, still showing his manic energy and goofy sense of humour but not going overboard. He even took the set down for a moment with a sincere story and almost mellow (or, as mellow as beekeeper can get) song called "Drownings".
For their cover, they teased playing Rush, but then launched in to "You Learn" from Alanis Morissette, which was definitely the most interesting cover of the night, giving it a "beekeeper twist", and even had Devon going into the crowd.
"Pinwheel Revolution" took a moment to show off Brandi's operatic past and her glass-shattering voice, and they brought the set to an end with a "family photo", pulling up as many fans as they could fit on the stage for a big group picture, and then letting everyone stay and dance for the last song, "Believe, Believe".
Probably the most high energy and genuinely fun set of the night, beekeeper is another band that I really hope makes the top five, but I can see them maybe being just a little too "weird".
Redgy Blackout: The members of Redgy Blackout hit the stage looking slick, adorned in dress shirts and ties, with Scott also sporting a vest and top hat. They were immediately fun and energetic, with their unique mix of indie rock, folk and pop. Both Scott Perrie and Jeremy Breaks have a good live energy and play off each other really well, getting everyone moving to songs like "Coming Alive" and "Bottom of the Sea".
After what I thought was going to be an introduction into a Matthew Good Band song for their cover, they ended up going with Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)", giving a more up-tempo version, and getting the crowd to yell along with the "LIES!"
Their final song they brought out Brandi from beekeeper to help out on backup vocals, enlisting the crowd as well, and scores of balloons being tossed throughout the crowd to wrap up their set.
While I enjoy watching Redgy Blackout live -- they are tight, have great harmonies and write catchy songs -- I think they are just missing something, some ineffable quality to really push them over the edge.
Jordan Klassen: One of the more well known acts -- with a little bit of Peak airplay before the competition started -- Klassen ended off the first showcase. The first thing you notice about Jordan is his incredible energy on stage. He oozes enthusiasm, jumping and leaping around the stage; rarely will you see a more enthusiastic tambourine player. That energy definitely rubs off on his five bandmates, and even into the crowd.
Klassen's rich, folk-pop sound gives way to grand songs that start slow and build to a soaring finish. Like the alternating slow burn and explosiveness of "Piano Brother", the lush "The Horses Are Stuck" and "Go To Me", which had a couple members mingle in the crowd with tambourines, creating a surround-sound feel for the song.
His cover was the 90s pop hit "Love Song" by Sky, which was not at all ironic, but endearing and appropriately cheesy. It was probably my second favourite cover of the night, as it was both a unique and interesting take on the song. The set, and the night, was brought to an end with "Call & Answer", which is probably my favourite song of his; another one that starts soft and grows to an energetic and huge ending.
I would not at all be surprised if Klassen makes the top three of the contest; he has almost everything they're looking for, and would definitely be deserving.
And with that, the first showcase was done. Join me next week at the Red Room where we'll have the chance to see The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer, The Fugitives, The River & The Road and
And hopefully the sound in the Red Room is better next week.