Thursday, May 05, 2016

Mabel, Darts and Archie Powell highlight CMW Wednesday

Going into the Canadian Music Week festival on Wednesday evening I knew I'd get one knockout show and was hopeful of the same result for five more. The anticipated KO was delivered, while the final outcome was mixed on a night which took a turn after the clock struck 12.

The night began at The Painted Lady with Toronto quartet Spindrifter. The two guitarists were talented players who made a fair amount of use of their effects pedals to create a shoegaze/indie rock sound reminiscent of the early '90s. The group was very loud in the small room and perhaps wasn't mixed optimally, but the melodies I heard in the group's recorded work were largely missing on the stage. Spindrifter didn't live up to my expectations so I moved on before the end of its set.

Sydney, Australia's Mabel was probably the band that was formerly unknown to me that I was most looking forward to see at CMW and, after a bit of a slow start with the first two songs, the quartet soon started sounding the way I had envisioned. "Rachel" had a nifty '60s-sounding pop hook and a soulful vocal delivery and the momentum continued from there with the slightly psychy "Spaceman," most recent single "My Way," vintage power pop-sounding gem "I Wanna Love You" and other songs that were infectiously jangly and enjoyable. When washed down with a pint of Beau's Kissmeyer Nordic Pale Ale, it was a very tasty 40 minutes at Handlebar. Mabel is playing several shows during CMW, so I might see it again. You should as well.

Elk Walking
Up Augusta Avenue at Supermarket, Chicago's Elk Walking opened its set with "Dreams." Considering some of the group's songs remind me a bit of Fleetwood Mac, sharing a song title with that group was appropriate. Savanna Dickhut and Julian Daniell shared vocal duties, both solo and together, and also played guitar in front of another guitarist, bassist and drummer. A mild white funk rhythm spiced one number up and Daniell also played a djembe for a song. First single "Just Don't Know It Yet" was the highlight and the set ended with "Magic Potion." The set suffered from some technical issues that affected the sound and may have coloured my judgment, but I had hoped for more from Elk Walking.

The rest of my night was spent at the Bovine Sex Club, beginning at 11 p.m. with another Australian act, Darts. This was the three-women, two-men outfit's first show outside of its homeland, and its indie rock travelled well. The sound was somewhat dark, but with some uplifting moments, and the several time changes incorporated into their songs were handled very well. The somewhat spacey "Aeroplane" was a favourite along with the final song. The group members handed out free tote bags because they're not allowed to legally sell them in Canada. Darts might be playing more shows during CMW than any other band, and I advise you to catch one of them.

Archie Powell & The Exports
The Sick Things were supposed to follow at midnight, but something happened to change that so Chicago's Archie Powell & The Exports moved up an hour to take the time slot. This was the band I knew for sure would deliver since I've seen it twice before (although unfortunately just during abbreviated festival sets during North by Northeast and South by Southwest). I'd put the group's three albums from this decade (2010's Skip Work, 2012's Great Ideas in Action and 2014's Back in Black) against any other trio of records from the same period and say that they're cumulatively better. I was therefore disappointed to find out that the group isn't playing anything from the debut anymore.

But I was still satisfied with what was played, and how it was delivered to a disappointingly small crowd, with Powell bouncing around the stage and off his bandmates and losing his Blue Jays cap and his glasses in a great display of frenetic energy. The songs had the harder edge that came out more on Back in Black, but the hooks were still there, as was Powell's sense of humour between songs.

Punchline 13
I had nothing on my schedule after that, but my friend Jennifer showed up towards the end of Powell's set and convinced me to stick around even though we didn't know who was playing next. It turned out to be Montreal pop-punk band Punchline 13. Singer Sly Rawk took full advantage of his cordless microphone as he moved from the stage to the floor several times during a set that was a very pleasant surprise since the group wasn't originally on my "to see" list. Aside from a fun and shortened version of "Footloose," my favourite song was "What Will Yo Do." If you liked Simple Plan early on but not as much now, Punchline 13 might be a band for you.

Lost Cause
Jennifer thought the next band looked promising as it was setting up, so I ordered another can of Strongbow and stuck around for what turned out to be a young and loud power trio featuring two brothers from Oshawa called Lost Cause. My expectations weren't high, but the original aggressive alternative rock songs were surprisingly good and the cover of Nirvana's "Breed" was exemplary.

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