Peak Performance Project kicked off last night, in style, at Fortune Sound Club.
Starting with the announcement of the Top 12 (cut back from a Top 20 last year, to accommodate the newly launched Alberta version of the Project), the bands chosen will take part in a week-long bootcamp learning everything that can about the industry, play a series of showcase shows, and take part in other challenges, all to have a shot at the giant novelty cheque for $102,700 presented to them by Music BC and 102.7 The Peak.
This year kicked off with a "Victory Tour" of last year's winner Good for Grapes, and the first PPP Alberta winner The Wet Secrets, after the live announcement of the top 12. They started here in Vancouver and will tour across BC and Alberta, finishing off in Calgary for their Top 12 launch party.
It has been something like eight years since The Wet Secrets last played Vancouver (one of their members was only 14 at the time!) and thanks to that, I had never had the seen them play live. So I was very much looking forward to it, having heard nothing but great things.
When they six-piece band from Edmonton hit the stage, the first thing you notice -- okay, the second thing you notice, after their matching marching band uniforms -- is their unique instrument composition. No guitar, just lead singer Lyle Bell on bass, and a strong horn section with Kim Rackel & Emma Frazier on trumpet & trombone, respectively (as well as backing vocals, and some sweet choreographed backup dancing) and Christan Maslyk rocking the sax. Drummer Trevor Anderson and Paul Arnusch on keys (and congas) rounded out the band.
But of course the spectacle of their outfits wouldn't mean a thing if they didn't back it up with their music, and they certainly did with a fun and catchy alt-pop sound. They started off with "I Can Swing A Hammer", the first song from their upcoming album, before ramping up the energy for the raucous marching song "Secret March", one of my favourites, and a song that will be stuck in your head for days.
Other highlights included "If I Was a Camera", which asked the crowd to take off their clothes, as the band went first, doffing their marching band jackets during the song, and "Get Your Shit Together", a song to listen to "when experiencing technical difficulties with the people of Earth."
Lyle was also quick to give advice to any of the top 12 bands in the crowd, and tell tales about the fun times they had in the competition last year, especially at the bootcamp, before they finished off their set with a cover of The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry".
It was a really fun set that absolutely lived up to my expectations, and proved that they are definitely worthy of having been the first Peak Performance Project Alberta winner.
It was getting late on a school night and the crowd started to thin, but as soon as Good For Grapes took the stage, their loyal fanbase rushed up to dance along with their folky sounds. The seven members filled the stage with energy and their rich sound filled the room, a set with songs that burst to life with a hint of brass and strings, and spot-on harmonies.
Their biggest song, "Skipping Stone", had people singing and clapping along, and they also included a very interesting version of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" -- which was a little amusing, since one of the challenges in the Project is to learn a "Classic Canadian cover" and yet neither cover in the night was Canadian. They wrapped up the set with another grandiose song that included the obligatory floor tom breakdown, as the crowd chanted for an encore as they left.
To be completely honest, I haven't really been much of a fan of the band over the last couple years, but I can not deny they are very good at what they do. It's just a certain sound that I have grown a little weary of over the last couple years, and I feel that while the band has certainly improved since I first saw them, they haven't really evolved much. But they did mention they just finished a new album, so it'll be interesting to hear the new material.
As for the Top 12 itself, here is the list in order of announcement:
Little India – Langley
Chersea – Port Coquitlam
Smash Boom Pow – Vancouver
Jesse Roper – Victoria
Find the Others – Bowen Island
Mindil Beach – Vancouver
Bed of Stars – Abbotsford
Mike Edel – Victoria
Windmills – Vernon
JP Maurice – Victoria
Joy District – Comox Valley
Van Damsel – Kamloops
Regular readers will/should already know how much I like Chersea, so I was happy (but not at all surprised) when she made it in. She's also the sole female artist this year, but surprisingly not the only looper. Windmills, who I have seen before and like okay, also made it in. Perhaps they'll take after Hannah Epperson, who places second a couple years ago.
Three of the twelve bands are returning; Mike Edel, Van Damsel, and JP Maurice. Honestly, I am not sure that I like returning bands with a smaller pool, especially since JP and Mike also previously placed 4th and 5th (respectively) in 2012 AND it's JP's third time in the project (not even counting his backing up other bands). Van Damsel, at least, has changed their sound a bit since they were in it two years ago, and have been getting a push recently on The Peak; I think they are the early favourites to win.
Most of the other bands I either know in passing; Bed of Stars, or have only seen their names around town; Little India, Mindil Beach and Smash Boom Pow. The rest of them I am not familiar with at all, and look forward to hearing them.
And the first chance to see them all live will be at the Khatsahlano Street Party, on July 11th, where all 12 bands will play short sets throughout the day on the Peak Stage. See you there!