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 City, Kyprios, 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).
The final showcase of this year's Peak Performance Project, it was a bit of a bittersweet night. The Red Room was packed with fans and other musicians alike, all soaking in as much as they could, like the last days of summer camp. It was also a showcase I was looking forward to, with three acts I haven't heard as much as I'd like from, and one of my favourites from this year's crop of bands.
Mike Edel: I missed the first couple songs from Mike Edel (the Red Room is notoriously slow letting the large lines in), but luckily caught the majority of the set. He had a few familiar faces in his band, Colin McTaggart on guitar and Kiana Brasset on violin & helping out on vocals. With a bit of a low key, folk driven sound, his set was good, and he has well written and heartfelt songs, but I didn't think there was much to set him apart; either from the rest of the top twenty, or from his genre.
He chose "Heart of Gold" from Neil Young for his cover, which was a fine interpretation, and just when I was thinking he needed a bit more of an edge, he wrapped up with the two most dynamic songs, "The Country Where I Came From" and "More Than The Summer". The former starting soft and slow and burst into an energetic ending, and the latter keeping that energy up; a good pair to end off on.
(Disclaimer: I have considered that, since I missed the beginning, I started in a bit of a mid-set-lull, which was the basis my opinion)
T. Nile: With a banjo in hand, a sharply dressed band, and a large parasol at the back of the stage with images and videos projected onto it, Tamara Nile took the stage for her set. She had a darker folk sound, with a bit of an electronic tinge, and a strong voice to drive the songs. She is definitely a good musician, but I didn't think anything really stood out from the set; it could have been that the Red Room can be merciless to the acts that sway on the folk or quieter side, but I didn't find myself drawn in.
She brought out Graham Madden from Tough Lovers to help out with her Canadian cover, Byran Adams' "Cuts Like A Knife" (which has shown up in previous years) and ended the set with her current Peak-single, "Running", which was a good example of her electro-folk sound, and my favourite of the set.
Dominique Fricot: No stranger to the Peak Performance Project, Dominique Fricot was in the first year as part of The Painted Birds. But now Dom has struck out on his own and is in this year as a solo act, backed by a band with some notable Vancouver musicians. The main members included Rob Tornroos on guitar & Niko Friesen on drums, and he also had Hilary Grist helping out on backup vocals and members of Four on the Floor on strings for a few songs.
There are a few bands or musicians this year that I thought have been talented, but just need that extra edge, or just a little something to set them apart, and Dom is one of them. He has a great stage presence and charisma, and you can tell he pours his emotions into his songs, but they just need a bit of a kick to set them apart.
His sound has a strong 90's alt rock influence, and there were a few songs, such as "Burn and Start Over", that were quite catchy. He didn't stray too far from that 90's influences with his cover of "You Don't Love Me" from Philosopher Kings, which featured Adaline out on backup vocals. The duo's voices mixed very well together, and Dom was at his most outgoing and energetic on stage during the cover.
That being said, Fricot does have a certain appeal, with huge supportive fan base (which is well deserved) and I would not be surprised (or disappointed) to see him in the top five.
Portage & Main: I've made it no secret that I have clear favourites in this year's competition, and Portage & Main was one from the get-go. They've been my pick to win it from the start, and their set just strengthened that opinion. The folk-roots-rock band kicked off in high gear with the rocking "Sweet Darling" and hardly looked back. Even with some of the slower songs, they managed to keep up a high energy, especially both John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly, who play off each other so well.
Their cover was another Bryan Adams tune, "Summer of '69", which was not really a bold choice, but a good interpretation, slowed down and rootsy, more geared towards their style; and they had a good chunk of people singing along with the chorus.
They brought the set to a big ending, inviting nearly everyone involved in the PPP on stage to belt out the chorus of "Oh Carolina" -- as well as the crowd -- for a huge singalong, and a great showing of camaraderie for all the bands. Some of the musicians even didn't want the experience to end, staying on stage chanting "Oh Carolina" after the band was done.
And with that, the showcase series is over. Now is when the the business side of the competition kicks in, with the bands each having to write a business report -- showing it's not just about how well the musicians play, but how industry savvy they are as well, There is also the voting process, which counts towards their "final grade". So head over to the Peak Performance Project website to vote for who you think should take the top stop, and cross your fingers. The top five will be announced on November 1st, and the top three will play the grand finale on November 22nd at the Commodore, to find out who wins $102,700.