Pop thrills at Nightowl and Handlebar for CMW Thursday
My Thursday of the Canadian Music Week festival was divided between Nightowl and Handlebar and was likely the most consistently enjoyable night of the four I spent club-hopping.
The Kickstand Band
Nightowl is a relatively new live venue located in the basement of a bar/restaurant of the same name. It's an intimate space but seemed cavernous when I comprised half the audience at the beginning of The Kickstand Band's 8 p.m. set. The Detroit male-female, guitar-bass duo deserved much better, as they opened with "I Don't Care" and ended with "New Year's Eve." In between were several short, snappy and relatively simple but wonderfully melodic songs with a retro vibe, excellent harmonies and great pop hooks. The band's appreciation of well-crafted power pop was evident by its cover of the Dwight Twilley Band's "Looking For The Magic." The soundwoman came out from behind the board to dance, which was a nice touch, as was The Kickstand Band's use of house lamps with no shades as stage lighting.
I then made my way to Kensington Market and Handlebar for Surf Dads. The four members looked too young to be dads but some of their songs delivered a surf-style guitar sound with a much tougher edge than offered by The Ventures. The loud quartet hails from Regina, Sask., which of course is renowned for its surfing. Several other songs were a mix of punk and alternative rock that didn't really stand out like what was produced by others who I saw on Thursday.
England's The Orielles -- comprised of a male guitarist/singer, female bassist/singer and female drummer all wearing what we called when I was a kid, flood pants -- followed. This was the young trio's first Canadian show and it exhibited talent well beyond its years. There was sunny pop played with a raw edge but skilled precision. There were chiming guitars and a great mix of '60s garage rock and '80s power pop, but also some more atmospheric moments. The tempo changes were very proficient and the overall impression left was great. Gillian Zulauf gave me a three-song CD from The Orielles and a Woodhouse Stout. Both were much appreciated.
The space in front of the stage filled up for Ottawa's Thrifty Kids. Lead singer/guitarist Sarah Cogan has a beautiful voice which she made fine use of on the enchanting "Cherry Wine," and the harmonies from the other members were also spot-on. The group often conveyed a vintage '60s pop sound with plenty of hooks and reverbed guitar, and a cover of "Twist and Shout" fit perfectly among the original numbers. There wasn't a lot of chatter between songs, but the music spoke my language and it went down quite well with a "Dark and Stormy" cocktail.
Laura & Greg
I returned to Nightowl just before midnight and Meltybrains? were just finishing what appeared to be quite a colourful set with band and audience members wearing white masks splashed with paint. That late finish meant that Laura & Greg didn't come on until 12:20 a.m. It appears that I'm a sucker for male-female duos that attract fewer than five people. Like The Kickstand Band, Laura & Greg deserved a much bigger audience after making the drive from New York City. He played guitar, she played keyboards, they both sang and their voices blended well together on finely crafted indie pop songs. Laura's voice was particularly captivating. I really liked what I heard and would be happy to see the duo again, but the late start meant that I had to leave before the end of the set to make the 20-minute walk back to Handlebar for 1 a.m.
The Magic Gang
Another British band, The Magic Gang, provided more well-crafted, classic pop music that was occasionally a bit quirky but always enticing. I'd make a mild Teenage Fanclub comparison. New song "All This Way" was a standout, as were the two final songs, "Alright" and "Jasmine." I hope to hear more from this quartet.
The final band of the night was Toronto outfit OL' CD. The quartet plays the kind of garage rock I want to hear at 2 a.m., and it seemed that sentiment was shared by the 20 people who crowded the front of the stage -- including two guys who play-wrestled on the stage during a cover of The Who's "My Generation." OL' CD delivered a crunch but also knows its way around a melody. All in all, it was a great way to end quite an entertaining night.