Best and worst of CMW
From Fucked Up’s subway show to Alice Glass’s hometown debut, these are the shows that turned our heads at CMW
STEVE GUNN at the Great Hall, Monday, May 7. Rating: NNNN Steve Gunn took his time fingerpicking his way into his solo set, explaining, “I need to wake myself up and remind myself that I’m playing a show.” The New York songwriter had driven 11 hours to be here and looked zonked. But a few songs in, Gunn shifted toward new songs, which seemed to focus him and the audience. Between them he played a cover of Michael Chapman’s beautiful Among The Trees at the request of Toronto guitarist Matt “Doc” Dunn before getting even more cosmic with the open-tuned bluesy slide guitar and just-loud-enough distortion of his own Mr. Franklin.
BEAMS at Lee’s Palace, Wednesday, May
9. Rating: NNN Beams flew through a set of mini epics, a folk-inflected sprawl that unfurled into noisy crescendos, while a listless audience receded to the back of the room for not-so-muted conversation. It was a bummer, although a mild one considering that this is pretty much the archetypal Wednesday-night CMW experi-
ence, which tends to cater more to the music industry than the city’s organic community of fans. Nevertheless, the local group seemed unfazed, and gave off a collective energy that soared above what they got in return. This is the sort of band who drag a vibraphone onstage to double a melody played by a banjo. They know exactly what they’re doing.
CUPCAKKE at the Mod Club, Thursday, May 10. Rating: NNNN There is no one on this earth quite like CupcakKe, and that is a gift. The Chicago rapper brought her sensual and explicit bars to an insatiable crowd. Moments before she casually walked onstage, the lights dimmed slightly and fans rushed to the front. CupcakKe, at first momentarily dumbfounded by the enthusiastic response, quickly assumed a powerful and mesmerizing slow strut. She ran through Vagina, Duck Duck Goose, her latest single Quiz and the anthemic, inclusive LGBT, which elicited profound cries of joy. The only drawback was the set’s length: at only 30 minutes, we were all left still hungry. SARAH MACDONALD
YONATAN GAT at Sneaky Dee’s, Thursday, May 10. Rating: NNNN Yonatan Gat and his band set up right on the floor and blasted through a set of endless modal soloing that squawked, pealed and churned. The relentless riffage would perhaps be exhausting if it weren’t for the ferocious dynamism of the band, who made every song feel like a disastrous weather event. Torrents of melodic shredding were buffeted and cajoled by monstrous drum fury and precariously tethered by an unsinkable bassist. After punctuating the set with several dozen guitar-windmill exclamation marks, Gat quietly thanked the audience and killed the lights. Everyone stood blinking in the dark for a moment, as though we’d all just stepped off a playground carousel a little too quickly. MS
LYDIA LUNCH at Hard Luck Bar, Thursday, May 10. Rating: NNNN About halfway through a set of atonal guitar scrape and violent rasp, someone screamed out “Lydia, you’re a legend.” The 58-year-old no wave pioneer replied, “Oh darling, in your own mind, not mine. I’m not dead yet.” It fits with the genre
she helped build, which is anti-legacy, anti-influence and anti-most things, yet still full of humour and camp. Lunch herself was both confrontational and inviting, full of twisted, gothic charisma. She delightedly refused requests (“this is not the Lydia Lunch box”) but also defended a fan who was told to shut up when he was talking during the quiet part. “If this set makes sense to you,” she said towards the end, ”then you’re about as fucked up as I am.” RICHARD TRAPUNSKI
JAUNT at the Garrison, Thursday, May 10. Rating: NNNN In just 40 minutes, Jaunt proved themselves to be one of Toronto’s most versatile bands, effortlessly mixing jazz, dreamy R&B, experimental folk and straight-up catchy pop. They drew from their recently-released EP, Cue, but the songs journeyed beyond the recordings via extended instrumental outros and mid-song breakdowns, without ever feeling self-indulgent. The highlight was 2016’s Gentle Reminder, which seamlessly transitions into a chilled-out rendition of Usher’s U Remind Me, that somehow had me actively longing for awkward, prepubescent junior high dances while I was blissfully swaying along.
THE BEACHES at the Opera House, Friday, May 11. Rating: NNNN Before the Beaches took the stage for the sold-out final stop of their first headlining tour across Canada, Avril Lavigne’s voice thundered throughout the Opera House. (The Toronto rock foursome are self-proclaimed Lavigne lovers.) They had pure rock ’n’ roll energy ripping through Loner, Moment and hit single Money. But it was their spectacular cover of The Ronettes’ Be My Baby that showed their true potential as a group. Their set sounded like the Strokes but looked like if that band were in a 90s teen comedy. Truthfully, it was quite a sight. SM
HAN HAN at Super Wonder Gallery, Friday, May 11. Rating: NNNN Han Han is a nurse by day, poet/MC by night, and she pulled an overnight shift prior to her show. But it didn’t hinder her performance, which evoked the challenges, triumphs and complexities of
being othered. Performed in Tagalog and Cebuano with a bit of English (“My songs are in Filipino, so too bad,” she joked after her first song), it focused on dual identities, separation and longing and laughter in the face of pain. She was joined by a fierce group of dancers, including choreographer Fly Lady Di. After playing primarily from her 2014 eponymous debut, she debuted two new tracks, including one dedicated to people of colour, and left the audience eating out of her hands. Chaka V. Grier
Belly at Rebel, Friday, May 11. Rating: NNN “We came here to fucking party!” said Belly during his set at the iHeartRadio FanFest, and boy did he know how to party. The crowd couldn’t help but bounce with the Ottawa rapper. He brought a lot of variety, from his rebellious Mumble Rap to the saucy Consuela, with lyricism that proved that he’s more than just a hitmaker. Where he faltered was keeping everyone engaged during Might Not, which prominently features the Weeknd. He did his best, but you can only try to hype the crowd so much before it just feels forced. SerGio araNGio
aliCe GlaSS at the Mod Club, Friday, May 11. Rating: NNN
Alice Glass has picked up where she left off with Crystal Castles: dialing back the abrasive screaming to emphasize melody and vulnerability. She has a rep as a fullthrottle performer, but her debut hometown solo headliner felt tepid – albeit loud. The pit was jumping but most in the laid-back crowd politely drank in her two-member band’s gothy and muscular synth, bass and drum rhythms as Glass dropped airy vocals into the icy din. She left the banshee wails to the backing tracks, but danced throughout, climbed on top of the drum kit and made a couple of trips into the pit. “Please don’t grab my ass – it’s not cool,” she said upon returning to the stage at one point. Perhaps sensing the tentative vibe in the room a woman’s voice called out: “We support you!” The set featured almost all of Glass’s solo songs plus a handful of CC singles and left the mosh pit begging for “one more song.” They wouldn’t get it, but she returned for a round of thank yous and handshakes. keViN ritChie
at the Baby G, Saturday, May 12.
Rating: NNN If you watched Twin Peaks: The Return, you should be familiar with Annie Hart’s band Au Revoir Simone from their two Roadhouse performances. Her solo material is a more minimalist version of the trio’s already understated synth-pop. The songwriting on her debut solo LP Impressive Accomplice is sharp and hooky, so part of the fun of watching her perform was how she – and one bandmate – created rich atmosphere using few elements: synths, guitar, loops and some simple choreographed moves. The set’s highlight was when she built the porous ballad California Song using synth loops and then lay on her back in front of the stage to interpret it. Her aesthetic isn’t far from the Chromatics’ neon cool, but Hart has a droll playfulness that mixes a theatrical edge into her dreamy vibes. kr
FooNyap at Small World Music ñ Centre, Saturday, May 12. Rating: NNNN During the hustle and bustle of CMW, Foonyap’s hour-long set felt like a soothing exhale. The Calgary-based experimental artist artfully looped and layered violin and mandolin, alongside her power-
ful voice that reverberated across the intimate theatre. She’d often begin songs by simply plucking her violin, gradually adding whispers of mandolin strums, dramatic bows and otherworldly effects. And just as the songs grew into booming soundscapes, she’d unravel them piece by piece. The performance was a welcome reprieve from the regular rock show fodder of CMW and left me feeling rejuvenated. se
DusteD Rating: nnn “I know it’s early by [CMW] last call standards,
at the Garrison, Saturday, May 12.
but we’re going to start this off a little chill,” Brian Borcherdt announced when he came on shortly after 1 am. The Dusted frontman began with Seasons, the breezy opener from his recently released album, Blackout Summer, before launching into a series of rollicking songs that showcased his full new backing band. Although Borcherdt’s been playing shows with Dusted on and off since 2012, he told the crowd that it felt like one of his first and that he needed to get over the nerves. And while he didn’t seem particularly nervous, he definitely looked the most comfortable when playing Property Lines, a throwback from his debut. Unfortunately, that was the last song of the night so the newfound confidence was short-lived. se
Moscow ApArtMent at the Rivoli, ñ
Tuesday, May 8. Rating: NNNN Moscow Apartment were stoked for their CMW set, and for good reason: if they weren’t playing, they wouldn’t be allowed in. The high-schooler duo of Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla – backed up for some songs by an equally teenaged rhythm section – skirt the lines between folk and indie rock. Their harmony-rich songs tackled topics like unrealistic beauty standards, people who believe in ghosts and periods – plus covers of Big Thief and Radiator Hospital – with the unjaded wisdom of youth. “Sometimes it’s hard to be a teenager, I don’t know if you people remember,” Padilla said in a bit of charmingly goofy stage banter, which continued throughout. “Is anyone here underage?” Trick question. rt
Nate huSSer at the Drake Hotel, Wednesday, May 9. Rating: NNN Nate Husser’s music revels in conflict which makes the push-and-pull dynamic between the Montreal performer and his audience at a live show the ideal setting for his music. Though the...
Patrick Pentland of Sloan. CMW’s free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square was mostly shruggy vibes before Sloan took the stage, but it only took a couple of songs for them to channel the crowd’s listless energy into rapturous attention. The band’s...