Monday, September 24, 2012

Peak Performance Project Showcase #2 @ Red Room -- 09/20/12

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. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

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).

While last week's showcase was all acts I was already a fan of, this showcase was full of bands I hadn't heard too much from, but each one I was interested to hear more of. I've always had a soft spot for folk-y, blues-y and roots-y rock, and all four bands this showcase were along those lines.

The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer: The duo of Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers started it off with their dirty blues sound, Hall on vocals and harmonica and Rogers on guitar and kick drum. They had a very high energy and everything that did came across with an effortless charm, both playing and the banter between the two. They had the same swampy blues sound through the whole set, but it never got stale, with songs like "Love Me Before You Leave Me", which built to a frantic and explosive ending, and it helped that they were joined by a trio of ladies, including Hilary Grist and Hannah Epperson, for backup vocals part way through. For their Canadian cover they went with one my my favourite Canadian bands, Big Sugar and thier song "Turn The Lights On" -- a great version, if a bit of a predictable choice for the blues duo -- and they ended with another explosive song, "Got My Mojo Working".
They were really fun to watch live, and so far they're my favourite new discovery from this year's Project. 

The Fugitives: One of the more interesting/unique bands in this year's showcase, The Fugitives combines slam poet Brendan McLeod and musician Adrian Glynn (no stranger to the Peak Performance Project himself) for what they call "modern folk". The four piece was joined by hired guns Niko Friesen on drums and John Walsh on upright bass, and Glynn played the most amusingly-named instrument of the night, the balalaika. Their unique style shone through on songs like "Start A War", which which features some very quick singing -- almost rapping -- that would be impressive on its own, but even more so when the whole band harmonizes.
For their Canadian cover, they couldn't pick just one song, so they chose a medley ranging from Arcade Fire's "Keep The Car Running" to "Ain't No Cure for Love" by Cohen, Maestro Fresh Wes' "Let Your Backbone Slide" to "You're Too Cool" by The Zolas, and finished it off with Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage", which they wove together remarkably well.
Following that was "We Don't Care", about homosexuality in sports (which didn't come across quite as awkward as it could have) and a song with a bit more spoken word in it -- which came across fine, but I'm kind of glad they didn't rely more on it. They wrapped up their set getting the crowd to sing along to "All This Trouble".

The River & The Road: With more straight ahead rock & roll sound, the four piece was good, and they definitely packed the room with their fans, but I couldn't help feel the whole thing was just a little... generic. A lot of their songs had the same vibe to them, and at some points it even felt like they were going down a checklist; Ballad? Check. Everyone on stage for a sing along? Check. Singer playing a floor tom? Check. Percussion breakdown? Check. Even their cover was kind of a "safe" choice, going with "Northwest Passage" from Stan Rogers; a good cover, but it just blended in with the rest of their set.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't by any means dislike them -- they were very good at what they do, had a lively energy on stage, and clearly have some mass appeal. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they end up in the top five.

Headwater: Wrapping up the night was the energetic Headwater. They've had a bit of a lineup shakeup recently, with a few of their members quitting, but the duo of Jonas Shandel and Matt Bryant plugged on, with a band that included Pat Stewart of Odds fame on drums. They started their set off with a bang, a big energy song appropriately titled "Freight Train", and they drove their rootsy sounding rock through the rest of their set with some excellent guitar work and high energy.
Near the end of their set they broke out what was the best cover of the night, "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" from Shania Twain. It was exactly the kind of cover that I love seeing in the showcase series; a fun -- or even silly -- choice that is outside the band's wheelhouse, but done seriously enough that it didn't feel like a joke. You can tell they were having fun with it, and they absolutely pulled it off.

All in all, it was a pretty swell night of music. This year's Project has a great representation of this kind of sound, and all four bands did a great job to showcase that.
Next week there is a break in the showcases, but it's back to the Red Room on October 4th for Alexandria Maillot, Dear Rouge, Facts, and Maurice.

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