Gt. DANE @ Bread & Circus
I’m a total sucker for baroque pop, especially the kind that comes with a chilling blend of storytelling and atmospheric vocals, so there really wasn’t a better place to start my Thursday night than at Bread & Circus with Gt. DANE. Gt. DANE is a one man act featuring Dana Moore, formerly of the Winnipeg collective All of Your Friends. Well suited to this venue with the candlelit tables, it immediately becomes clear that Moore could command a much larger room with just his voice, acoustic guitar and booming foot drumming on the stage floor. His act has been described as a “pop-noir murder mystery” and Moore definitely lives up to that intriguing blend. Fans of more radio-friendly sounds might not appreciate the way Moore defies traditional song structures – you’d be hard pressed to find a chorus or a poppy hook in his work, but listeners are rewarded with a nuanced and organic experience that is driven by storytelling and atmosphere. Moore himself was a witty and earnest stage presence, joking with the audience between songs and inviting warmth and laughter into the dark room. Off-stage Moore charmed even further when he refused payment from those wishing to buy his EP, Mourning Yer Host, insisting that the vinyl was a gift to those who had enjoyed his set.
For those who missed out or just want to relive the magic, check out a video made with music from Mourning Yer Host and looped footage from the Prelinger Archive.
Hopeful Monster @ Bread & Circus
I felt it would be pretty tough to follow Gt. DANE but was intrigued as Hopeful Monster’s set up included an electric guitar, a violin and a cello. I have pretty strong feelings about strings in pop music, so I was excited to see what this band had to offer. Unfortunately, their set began with a jarring note and never really left there for me. Through no fault of the band, the piano was not on stage so what I initially thought to be a trio was actually a quartet, with the vocalist offside and essentially invisible from the other side of the room. As the set progressed it felt like the guitarist wasn’t in step with the rest of the band, trying to add a heavier, rock flavour to the chamber pop sound created by the strings and keys. The guitar was much more suited to the song “Summer’s Only Daughter,” where the pedal effects reinforced the haunting themes of the song. At times this felt like it could have been their strongest song, but often the strings overpowered the vocals and keys and in the end I felt that aside from the string section no two band members were on the same page musically.
Royal Bangs @ The Horseshoe
Leaving Bread & Circus I headed down to Queen Street West for the Horseshoe. I knew I wanted to check out PS I Love You and Suuns, but hadn’t heard of the band preceding them so I took my time and lived to regret it. By the time I arrived the room already verging on “uncomfortable but not sold out”, and there was no chance of making it to the front and it was clear to see that Royal Bangs were putting on a highly energetic set. A trio from Knoxville, Tennessee, Royal Bangs offers the kind of blend of experimental indie rock that is guaranteed to keep your head engaged while making your heart beat faster. With use of keyboard distortion, guitar pedals and percussion that brings to mind the most anthemic White Stripes drumlines and strong vocals, they’re hitting almost every note right.
PS I Love You @ The Horsehoe
I’ve been a fan of these guys since I got my hands on Meet Me At The Muster Station last fall and every time I see them live I fall in love with their music all over again. There is something about Saulnier’s signature yelp that just sounds better when you’re standing in a crowd of fellow worshippers. There’s a flip side to that, of course, and that is that a fair few devotees of this band are complete douchebags. You know the guys, the bros who spill their beer down your back midway through the set and whose screaming adoration can turn on a band in a hot second. That hot second arrived when during the first chord of the second song the guitar amp blew. Gear issues can be killer, and for short festival sets this is especially true. For the bros, this was unacceptable. They yelled and cursed as though someone on stage was doing this to thwart them and when the issue was resolved and Saulnier paused long enough to ask the stage manager how much time the band had lost, they didn’t like that either. Of course, once Saulnier stepped back to the mic all was forgiven and PS I Love You powered through a crazy set that had the whole room whipped into a frenzy.
Suuns @ The Horseshoe
Like my fellow reviewer Dan Gorman, before this set the only thing I knew about Suuns was that people on Twitter were upset that they hadn’t gotten a Polaris nod for Zeroes QC, and now I’m mad about it, too. With a combination of pop, post-punk and experimental rock elements that isn’t for the faint of heart, Suuns had the audience captivated from the outset.