Some things never change. Walking down Bronson Avenue among the early fall aromas of Pizza Pizza dough and gasoline, I felt unstuck in time. It felt like a scene from a movie about my life circa 2007: a young man makes his way to a New Pornographers show at the Bronson Centre. Oh, and Born Ruffians are playing.
Okay, so maybe some things change. Ten years makes an impact, and the city, the music scene, and everyone involved have changed quite a bit. In theory, the New Pornographers have roughly same lineup they did when “Use It” was pretty much everywhere, but Dan Bejar and Neko Case were notably absent Thursday night. Dan is busy with Destroyer and Neko is occupied with her solo career. Todd Fancey and Kathryn Calder were their backups, and while they were fantastic replacements, there is something slightly off about the band when two of its most prominent members are absent.
Yet Carl Newman’s presence was enough to make all absences irrelevant. Two decades in a touring band will hone one’s talents, and Newman has become one with the stage. He clearly knows the material, and he still brings a tonne of energy to older songs, of which the lengthy set list contained many.
The band played a tight, breathless set comprising most of their well known songs, with the exception of any sung by Bejar (some things cannot be replaced). Their triumphant closer was The Bleeding Heart Show off 2005’s Twin Cinema, a masterpiece of Canadian indie rock that starts slow and builds to a soaringly high energy finale. Doubtless, they know their audience, and the room went absolutely crazy for it. That is, they went crazy for the parts they could make out over the refractive wall of sound issuing from the stage.
Because, here’s the thing: the Bronson Centre is nice and all, but the acoustics are pretty awful. It’s a square room with nothing on the ceiling and bare, reflective walls. The sound bounces around in there like Flubber, and with a band like The New Pornographers that can really be a problem. There were seven people on stage, with violins, keyboards, guitars and drums all clattering together. Now try adding vocals to that mud, and you’ll see why a melodically-focused band might be better off in a different venue.
However, since Bronson Centre is about the only venue in the city with the right size for the band, we may be stuck with it.
Luckily for Born Ruffians, they had only three members on stage. The band was a good fit as an opener because, besides having risen to fame at roughly the same time, their music is written in service of its vocals. Both Carl Newman and Luke Lalonde put on excellent performances, even if their vocals were largely indiscernible. Born Ruffians even debuted a couple of new songs from their upcoming record, which seemed like a step in a distinctly more dancy-punk direction.
While both of these bands have been around for some time, the fans were going just as crazy for their new stuff as their old stuff. The future is as bright as the past for them.
This year’s CityFolk festival has arrived, and we’re happy to bring you our picks for the 2016 edition. In this one, we’re exploring a variety of artists – some more established and in their prime, some that have been around for ages and still conquering the big stage, and others that are emerging and creating jaw-dropping new music ready to explode onto the scene.
We implore you to have a listen to the artists we’ve carefully chosen, however it is also important to do a little exploring. Sometimes the best part of a big music festival is seeing an intimate performance on a smaller stage, discovering hidden gems on your own. So here they are, our picks for CityFolk 2016.
CityFolk takes place at Lansdowne Park September 15–18, and artists play on multiple stages around the grounds. See the full schedule and purchase your passes here.
City Stage Thu, September 15, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
There’s no way that we were going to make this list without giving some love to The Acorn. The brainchild of Ottawa’s Rolf Klausener, The Acorn is easily one of the greatest musical exports the nation’s capital has to offer. Although Klausener began this project as a series of home recordings in 2002, he has shown no sign of slowing down having just released the acclaimed album Vieux Loup last year. While dabbling in other ventures, Klausener has always stayed true to The Acorn and its intimate, textural, and poetic underpinnings.
Guided By Voices
RavenLaw Stage Fri, September 16, 10:00 PM – 11:15 PM
If there’s one band that has been relentlessly putting out music since the 1980s, it’s Guided By Voices. Mind you, the lineup has changed a lot over that time – however principal songwriter Robert Pollard has been the rock that has kept GBV’s creativity flowing. These guys are influenced by a lot of the British invasion garage rock (our kind of shit), psych, prog, and even post-punk, but no matter what you have to appreciate their gritty, DIY approach to music. This band is as genuine as it gets, and a breath of fresh air in today’s current mainstream music industry climate.
City Stage Fri, September 16, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At just 19 years of age, Illinois’ Kwenku Collins has made a big name for himself not only as a songwriter, but as an MC and producer as well. His unique style and approach to making music have garnered him praise from major music critics around the globe – and he’s just getting started. 2016’s Nat Love LP has launched Collins into the big leagues, with ear-melting tracks like “Ghost”, “Vanilla Skies”, and “Stupid Rose” capturing listeners and never letting them go.
The New Pornographers
City Stage Sat, September 17, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
When you think of the Canadian indie rock renaissance over the last decade and a half, there’s one band that everyone agrees is a staple – The New Pornographers. Forming in 1999, this band is on an esteemed list of bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, The Weakerthans, The Constantines that poured a tank of gas on a national music scene that was largely barely smouldering embers as the millennium came to a close. In 2009, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the band’s second studio album, Electric Version, No. 79 in the “100 Best Albums of the Decade.”
City Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Basia Bulat has become a household name in Canadian music, proving over the years that she is as talented with her lyricism and songwriting as she is versatile in her sound. Cutting her teeth in the Ontario indie folk scene, she has separated herself from the pack as an artist that consistently outdoes herself. She’s shared the stage with Arcade Fire, The National, Nick Cave, Daniel Lanois, St Vincent, and her Juno/Polaris-nominated LP TallTall Shadow achieved national recognition and regular airplay on CBC. Her 2016 album of sorrow and redemption called Good Advice is shortlisted for the Polaris Prize this year.
BMO Stage Sat, September 17, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Julia Jacklin in an emerging artist that you should definitely keep your eye on. Her debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win is an introspective examination of life in your 20’s, and the minimalism in instrumentation contrasts beautifully with the lyrical depth that Jacklin explores so eloquently. At 25, she is sure to make some big waves, following the footsteps of musicians such as Courtney Barnett and Angel Olsen in her honest and intimate style.
RavenLaw Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
We love Northcote. Why, you ask? Matt Goud a.k.a. Northcote is a hard working and relentless guy with a tough exterior, but on the inside he’s got a spectrum of emotions that spill out through his music and into our ears. This small-town Saskatchewan songwriter brings a wealth of life experience to the table, and tapping into his influences which range from country to hardcore and punk rock. Whether they are anthems or lullabies, his songs of loss, love, small-town living and growing up are themes most of us can connect with. Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem fans are sure to fall in love with this guy.
BMO Stage Sun, September 18, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At 20 years old, don’t think that youth makes Julien Baker naive. Growing up in the Memphis DIY scene, Baker has faced the challenges of coming of age as a queer person in the South. Moreover, she unapologetically discusses topics such as drug abuse and depression on her debut album Sprained Ankle. Through the bigotry and hate that swells in that part of the US against marginalized LGBTQ communities, Baker’s beautiful, powerful voice and songwriting shines through as a ray of hope. She’s the kind of artist that makes writing such emotional, intricate songs look easy. Although short in stature, she is without a doubt one of the most inspirational artists to hit the stage at this year’s CityFolk festival, standing tall amongst the rest in our mind.