Sweetheart Serenade @ Rio Theatre -- 02/14/12

To be honest, I don't usually pay much attention to Valentine's Day. I usually just let it slip by unnoticed, but when Hip City puts together a show like the Sweetheart Serenade, with a few local acts playing intimate acoustic sets at a venue as nice as the Rio? Well, I wasn't going to miss that.
There were five acts throughout the night, and they all had short sets, so I'll [try to] keep it brief. But first, one thing that bugged me was an incessant buzz or hum throughout the night. It wasn't that noticeable when songs were played, but it was pretty prominent otherwise; if the person on stage was transitioning or bantering. I noticed it last show at the Rio, too, but hopefully it was just a one-off thing. I usually like shows at the Rio, so I would hate for this to be a persistent problem.

But on to the show itself. First up was Hannah Epperson, armed only with her violin and looping pedals. Interestingly enough (probably not that interesting), every time I've seen her has been at a show involving Zach Gray. Her set was short, but she showed off her fantastic violin skills and masterful loops, with a voice that fit perfectly for a few of her own songs, and an instrumental cover of "Can't Buy me Love". She also has the best awkwardly-charming stage banter this side of Aidan Knight, joking with the crowd between songs.
But the short set wouldn't be the last we saw of Epperson, as she was without a doubt the hardest working musician of the night.

Next up was Sunny Pompeii, the solo project of Said the Whale drummer Spencer Schoening. At first he was out alone for a couple songs with a folky charm, both original -- one that started "Last night I dreamt I kissed Neko Case" which immediately became a favourite -- and covers, before being joined by Epperson for a song and bandmate Simon Marmorek for the second half of the set. The covers throughout included the likes of Akron/Family, Grizzley Bear and Animal Collective and while Spencer's voice was a little worse for wear thanks to recording earlier in the day, their original songs were quirky and entertaining.

Next up was Tariq, who was backed by his Brasstronaut bandmate Sam Davidson on clarinet and space clarinet EWI, but performing his own songs. In contrast to Brasstronaut's ethereal sound, Tariq was more straight forward folk, almost with an alt-country twinge to the songs. He kept the theme of love songs going, though had mostly sadder love songs, and the strength of them was definitely Tariq's lyrics; a perfect example being "Front Row Seat", a love songs related through concert seating, with some clever and poignant lyrics that was not just my favourite of his set, but one of my favourites of the night.

John Sponarski, Harold Donnelly and Georges Couling of Portage & Main took the stage next. They, too, were joined by Epperson for a song, "Rocky Mountain Wanderer", and Savannah Leigh Wellman of Redbird (and honourary Portage & Main member) was also out for most of the set providing backup vocals. After the building "I'd Never Climbed a Mountain", they brought their set to an end getting the mellow crowd a bit more energized to sing along to the two-word chorus of "Carolina".
Some of their songs are as good, if not better, when stripped down, so it's always nice to see them play a more intimate acoustic show.

And finally The Zolas wrapped up the night. Zach and Tom took the stage and, once again, Hannah Epperson was out to lend her violin. They played a couple new songs, starting with "Ancient Mars" that had Tom on the drum pad, before feigning leaving, but were of course out for more; a cover of Radiohead's "Codex" and another new(ish) song "Strange Girl", where Zach decided to spontaneously jump on the drum pad mid-song for hilarious (yet awesome) results.
That seemed to be the end of it but they were out one last time -- in what may have been a rare legitimate encore -- for the crowd favourite "You're Too Cool" before ending the show.

In all, it was a really nice night, and all the performers on stage looked like they were legitimately having fun and were all really loose on stage, creating a really nice and intimate feel. Perhaps appropriate for what day it was.