Peak Performance Project Showcase #1 @ Red Room -- 09/08/11

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars. The first year was won by We Are The City, and last year, Kyprios, with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat where industry pros helped them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. In the last two years, the bands would all have to learn and play a cover of a classic Canadian song, but this year they will all be playing the songs they wrote about Vancouver for the Vancouver125 celebrations. Honestly, I am a bit disappointed about that, because one of my favourite aspects of the showcase series last year was seeing which song they picked and how they interpreted it. But I am sure their Vancouver songs will be great.

Kicking off the whole series was The Never Surprise, joined by drummer Neko Friesen and Robbie Driscoll on bass -- both of which have played with just about all the bands in Vancouver. They started the set with some slow, folk-y songs, but as the set went on they picked up the energy a little. There wasn't too much banter, aside from some gratuitous "thank yous", but they all seemed confident from the start, which just grew as the set went on. A little bit of feedback struck them early on -- that actually persisted throughout the night -- but it was played it off quite well. They wrapped up the set with their Vancouver 125 song, which was probably the most energetic one they had. They were the crowd into it and clapping along, and it was definitely a good ending song.

Hilary Grist was up next, keeping the mood somewhat mellow with her singer/songwriter folk-pop style. Musically, I thought she was okay; a nice voice and catchy songs, but nothing that really stood out or that I hadn't heard before. But she did have a fantastic energy and stage presence. Coming out from behind the keyboard, singing at the front of the stage, she was great and getting the crowd into it. As the set went on there was a couple of nice moments, with the whole band came up to the front for a soft, cute song and one song consisting of a good sized brass section. She ended her set with a song that started off with just her, then the band joined in, then her large brass section came in as well, for a big ending with the crowd singing and clapping along.

Following her was Jasper Sloan Yip, who I had heard a few songs from, but for whatever reason had never seen him live or delved deeper into his work. But that will have to change, because he put on a thoroughly enjoyable set with a bit more rock in his folk, and a nice balance of slower songs and fun, catchy upbeat ones. Yip had an effortless charm to him, and he & his band all had a good presence on stage, and great chemistry, playing off each other really well. I also loved the addition of the strings, especially violin, to the songs, giving them a nice depth. He, too, ended with a big, grand, clap-along song -- which was a fun song, but had me wondering a little if someone told all the bands at bootcamp that was a good way to end a show.

Wrapping up the night was The Belle Game. I've had the chance to see their big, chamber pop sound a few times in the last couple months, and this was probably their best show I have seen them play. While they have never been lacking energy, this set had an abundance of it, with the members moving around more, being more dynamic. Members of the band would come up front and centre to show off, notably Alex Andrew on guitar and trumpetite Andrew Lee (on loan from The Ruffled Feathers) blowing his heart out for a couple trumpet solos, and a really good intensity from singer Andrea Lo.
And they also had a big, bombastic ending to their set, wrapping up the first night of the showcase shows with a bang.

Definitely a fun night, and a great start to the showcase series, which runs for the next four Thursdays at the Red Room. Next week we'll hear from Avairis, Fields of Green, Acres of Lion and Current of Swell