A few months ahead of the release of their brand new album, Royal Canoe hit the road, with the first Canadian stop of the tour happening in Vancouver, at the Fox Cabaret.
Opening the night was fellow Winnipegger Begonia, who instantly captivated the room with her stellar vocals. She ranged from the soft and heartfelt “Hot Dog Stand” to the intense power on “Fear”, the title track for her upcoming album, and my favourite of the set.
Between songs, she was funny, charming, and a little self deprecating while chatting with the crowd, telling stories about the songs and how they came to be (especially before the aforementioned “Hot Dog Stand”). Other highlights included the infectious bass groove of “Juniper” and the soaring “Out Of My Head”, which ended the set.
If the crowd reaction was any indication, just about every single person in that room that did not know her before was an instant fan -- I overheard more than a few people around me as soon as it was over.
Not long after, the members of Royal Canoe took the stage one at a time to kick off with the distorted vocals and slow groove of "Nightcrawlin’”, for a set featuring old favourites and a preview of new tunes. “Rayz” -- the lead single from the upcoming album Waver – spotlighted the groups stellar harmonies, and another new one, “What’s Left In The River” built to an insane and chaotic ending.
They snuck a little bit of Nirvana’s “Lithium” into “Love You Like That”, and most of the packed theatre was singing along to the contemplative “Exodus of the Year” and the bombastic “Bathtubs”.
The set came to an end with “Lies”, another song that built to a swirling cacophonous finale. But they weren’t gone for long before returning, inviting Begonia back on stage for the song they released together last year, the funky dance-jam “Fussin’” to cap off the night.
I’ve said before (repeatedly) how Royal Canoe is one of my favourite bands to watch live, and even with the loss of one of their two drummers, they haven’t missed a beat. Their interesting and unique blend of influences create a sonic force that is unmatched.
Walk Out On The Water,
Love You Like That (w/ Lithium [Nirvana cover]),
I Am Collapsing So Slowly,
What’s Left In The River,
Exodus Of The Year,
Living A Lie.
As this year’s Westward Festival wrapped up on Sunday, there was one more show I was eagerly anticipating: We Are The City headlining the Vogue Theatre. Especially since the band is just ahead of a brand new album (or two) and were promising to tease some new songs.
Unfortunately, I was running late, and got to the Vogue literally just as The Tourist Company was finishing their last song. But the second opener of the evening was Common Deer, who I had heard a few songs from on CBC Radio 3, and had been meaning to check out more from.
With vocals split between keyboardist Sheila Hart-Owens and Graham McLaughlin, who switched between guitar and violin throughout the set, their orchestral pop rang through the theatre. Songs ranged from the slower and haunting “Damages”, to the soaring and anthemic “Wait!”, and the rapid-fire vocals on “Mistakes”. They ended with “Fuckboi”, introduced as a song about, well, I think you can figure it out. The band had a good stage presence too, combined with the catchy songs made for a strong opener, and I am interested to see more from them in the future.
Not long after that, the whole stage went dark, before a single fluorescent tube of light flickered on, Cayne McKenzie holding it over his head for a creepy sounding intro song -- and a little creepy looking, with the light illuminating just his arms + head -- before he was joined the rest of We Are The City, by Andrew Huculiak and David Menzel as they burst into the gorgeous “Baptism”.
They ran through some old favourites, like “King David”, Cayne letting the crowd sing the chorus. “All My Friends” transitioned into “Happy New Year”, and that in turn segued seamlessly into Andy taking over vocals on “Dark/Warm Air”, going right into the audience before getting back on the drums for the song’s bone-rattling finish.
Among the new songs the trio played were the aptly-titled slowburner “Mid-Tempo Drama”, a gorgeous piano-driven song that I believe is called “Dark Horizon” and immediately became my new favourite WATC Song, and an absolute banger “Killer B-Side Music”, which saw the band at their most raw and explosive.
They played right up to the curfew, finishing off with the first single from the upcoming album, “When I Dream, I Dream of You”, not bothering with the whole faux-encore deal, for a fantastic ending that had the audience clamouring for more (Andy had to return to the stage to explain that had to be it, and we all had to get going to make room for the late show that evening).
I’ve seen We Are The City play live many times, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as comfortable and effortless on stage as they were this night; Cayne’s dancing flourishes when not at the keyboard, Andy playing drums so hard he was frequently standing up, and even needed to swap out his stool, and David front and centre ripping on guitar. Even when chatting with the crowd, they were as much joking to each other as talking to the audience.
Their new album, At Night, is coming out in a couple weeks -- plus they’ve even hinted at a second new album before the end of the year -- and based on what I heard last night, I couldn’t be more excited to hear more.
The Westward Festival returned for its second year this weekend, and one of the acts I was most looking forward to this year was internet sensation Poppy. Co-created by Titus Sinclair, the series of strange videos with the character Poppy (like her interviewing a plant) swept the internet before it turned into a full fledged music project, with Poppy.Computer released last year, and the upcoming Am I A Girl? coming out at the end of October.
It was an early show at the Vogue Theatre, and with a bare, all-black stage, Poppy came out with an ornate dress and two backup dancers, starting with a newer single “In A Minute”, before going into “My Style”. On the surface, it seems like your run-of-the-mill pop music, but when she sings “Bath salts, start a cult, I'm so adult / That's my style” and a chorus that includes the line “Poppy will break your neck” you know maybe there’s something a bit more sinister behind it. “Bleach Blonde Baby”, which is about being born absolutely “perfect”, and her upcoming single “Fashion After All” both seem as subversive as they are catchy.
Or, maybe I’m just looking too deep into a well-crafted YouTube character which consists of weird videos and fun & earworm-y (if strange) pop music, with songs like the frantic “My Microphone” which had both Poppy and her backup dancers searching the stage and the audience for her microphone (a few people in the front even had fake mics they passed up front). Throughout the whole set, Poppy and both of the dancers were going back and forth on stage, hardly stopping or pausing even for a moment.
Every few songs (during costume changes) they played some of her bizarre non-music videos, like the “advertisement” for Doritos and Monster Energy, or Poppy conversing with her bunny ring about happiness. Not to mention all her crowd banter was ‘in character’, with her voice being a little more unnerving than I expected when hearing it live.
After one last video, she returned to the stage for the final song, the synth-driven “I’m Poppy”, with the 45 minute set going by in a flash, and the crowd cheering for an encore (which, as the house music came up and the stage techs started clearing the stage, was clearly not in the cards).
I did think maybe there would be more of a ‘stage show’ aside from the two dancers and large screen, but it’s also possibly that it just wasn’t feasible due to the time constraints of being an early show with a curfew, with another show playing later that night for the Westward Festival. But aside from that, it was just about exactly what I wanted it to be; ridiculously catchy pop music with a weird and even somewhat unsettling undertone.
In A Minute
Time Is Up
Fashion After All
Bleach Blonde Baby