I arrived toward the end of the Collective Concerts-Ticketfly party on Wednesday to kick off my Canadian Music Festival. I missed the smoked meat sandwiches courtesy of Caplansky’s, but was in time to grab a couple bottles of Labatt 50 before the open bar closed at 8:30 p.m.
That gave me time to reach The Silver Dollar Room by 9 p.m. to see The Danks, whose 2009 Are You Afraid of The Danks full-length debut was my fourth favourite album of that year. I hadn’t seen the Charlottetown, P.E.I. group (which shares members with Two Hours Traffic) perform, however, and had high hopes for this set.
They were soon dashed, however, as lead singer/guitarist Brohan Moore’s voice already seemed shot — which didn’t bode well for the rest of the band’s shows the rest of the week. Maybe it was Moore’s voice that threw me off, but I didn’t hear all of the power pop goodness that made Are You Afraid of The Danks so special.
“Die Young” was my favourite of the original songs and although The Danks tried to elicit bigger reactions from covering Devo’s “Girl U Want” and Pixies’ “Alec Eiffel,” it wasn’t in the cards. There was a lack of stage presence and little talking between songs as well, but I’m hoping that was just another part of a young band having an off night in front of a relatively small audience.
Toronto’s Rattlesnake Choir followed on the Silver Dollar stage at 10 p.m. with a roots rock and country set featuring Screamin’ Sam Ferrara on saw, cheese grater and a Slinky-like instrument to augment lead singer/acoustic guitarist/harmonica player John Borra, upright bassist Tony Benattar and keyboardist/accordionist Michael Boguski. The originals were perfectly decent, Handsome Ned’s “I’ve Come to Get My Baby Out of Jail” brought back fond memories and a familiar-sounding instrumental was also enjoyable.
Crazy Strings inherited the vibe that Rattlesnake Choir established and kept it going for a larger crowd that was looking to dance by opening with an excellent finger-pickin’ instrumental, covering Lefty Frizzell’s “My Baby’s Just Like Money” and capping things off with The Carter Family’s “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.” These five guys certainly know their way around acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo and upright bass, and their harmonies are nothing to sneeze at either. Humorous song introductions were the icing on the cake for a fun set from what may be Toronto’s favourite contemporary bluegrass band.
The best was saved for last, however, with a midnight set by The Stanfields at The El Mocambo. This Halifax quintet possesses both power and instrumental virtuosity and was riding high on two recent East Coast Music Awards, including the coveted entertainer of the year. This show illustrated why it won, as the crowd down front was dancing from the start to Celtic rock songs that tell stories and include both humour and social commentary.
Passionate renditions of “Mrs. McGrath,” “Federal Hall,” “Run on the Banks,” “The Road to Guysborough,” “The Boston States” and “Invisible Hands” from last year’s excellent (and ECMA-winning) Death and Taxes sophomore album earned each band member a shot purchased by a fan. The group reached back to its 2010 Vanguard of the Young & Reckless debut for “Ship to Shore” and a rowdy “The Dirtiest Drunk (In the History of Liquor),” which ended the set and left the crowd roaring for more. It didn’t get it, but there was no-one in the room who should have left unhappy.