Peak Performance Project Finale @ Commodore -- 11/21/13

It was a night that would change the lives of three bands. It was, of course, the Peak Performance Project finale concert, with over $227,000 in money being awarded; $102,700 for first place, $75,000 for second and $50,000 for third. The three bands vying for the prize were Hannah Epperson, Rykka, and BESTiE, picked as the top three from the twenty bands competing in this fifth year of the promotion. All twenty bands took part in a week long rock & roll bootcamp, and were judged on their showcase at Fortune, a business report, online voting, and a few other challenges and projects.
Everything had been tallied up and the placement determined long before the show, but the finale was a chance for the top three to show off at one of the best and most revered venues in town, the Commodore Ballroom.

This year was probably my favourite top three since the very first year, with both Epperson and Rykka being my top two picks from the very start. While other years I have been somewhat... disappointed in the top three or the winners, this year I was looking forward to the whole show.

The night started with Hannah Epperson, taking the stage alone with her violin, barefoot, and hardly able to contain the smile on her face. She launched into a couple instrumental songs showing off her incredible talent and making great use of the looping pedal.
She added her soft vocals, fitting the beautiful "Murder of Crows" perfectly, and after a few songs was joined by the drum pad, adding a sexy bassy dancey vibe to "Shadowless". Near the end of the set, she dedicated a song to her brother who could not be there, and asked everybody to hug the person next to them, getting a video of the hugging crowd.
The set came to an end with the apocalyptic "Host a Party" before she invited the boys in Oh No! Yoko to come out and perform their bootcamp collaboration, "Soft Shoulder".
I admit, even though she was my favourite, I never thought a solo violin looper would make the top three of the Peak Performance Project; but Hannah's incredible talent broke that barrier, and that was one instance where I was thrilled to be proven wrong.

Up next was Rykka, coming out in an outfit that can only be described as The Road Warrior meets Cher (in the best way) very fitting of her dark, synthy electro-rock sound. The band exploded out of the gate with the first song, "Map Inside", and from the first song, Rykka hardly stood still on stage. She danced and bobbed back and forth, exuding energy.
Playing mostly from her recent album, Kodiak -- in which all of the songs are written from the perspective of various animals -- Rykka also threw in a couple new songs. Part way through the set she was joined by friend and producer of her record, Ryan Guldemond to play guitar for a couple songs, including the driving and intense "Down in the Depths".
She brought the tone down for a moment, with the softer "Grassland" before getting it right back up for "Shotgun", and ended with the aptly titled "Electric", getting Ryan back out once more, and the sold out crowd clapping along.

And finally, BESTiE took the stage to round out the night, and end off the fifth year of the project. Admittedly, they were not among my initial choices for the top three, and while there isn't a lot of variation in their songs, they put on a really fun live show. With beach balls (and later an inflatable palm tree) thrown into the audience, songs like the upbeat "Pineapple" got the crowd grooving to their fun tropical pop-rock, the band's energy infectious.
They brought a horn section out for a few songs, including the classic Canadian cover they learned for the project, a pretty solid version of The Payola$' "Eyes of a Stranger", and invited Rykka back out on stage to play their Bootcamp collaboration, "Together", before ending off the night by upping the energy even more with "Sriracha", joined by hula dancers on stage.

Fun way to end the show, but of course the night was not done; there was still the unveiling of the top three and the awarding of the giant novelty cheques. Third place went to BESTiE, second place to Hannah Epperson, and the winner of $102,700 to put towards her career, was Rykka. An outcome that I was very satisfied with.

Major kudos is deserved to both The Peak and Music BC and all the people involved in this incredible yearly contest, especially for their support and nurturing of local music. I hope the bands involved go on to keep doing what they're doing, and I hope The Peak continues to support them, even (or especially) the ones that didn't make the top five.

Peak Performance Project Showcase #5 @ Fortune -- 10/17/13

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands each a year and makes them stars. Past winners are We Are The CityKypriosCurrent Swell, and Dear Rouge with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a "rock & roll boot camp" where the musicians went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros, to help them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at Fortune Sound Club; four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project. They've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and it's always interesting to see who each act chooses, if it's someone obvious to their style, or something way outside the box.

I've said a couple times previously, coming in to this year I had some very strong biases, and Hannah Epperson was one such bias. I've always liked violins in music and been fascinated by looping, so the first time I saw her ethereal violin looping ways, I was enamoured. She's been involved in past years, supporting other bands, but this time she has made the top twenty with her own material. 
She took the stage to start the night alone, building intricate violin loops and adding her soft and gorgeous voice, starting with "Murder of Crows". Her set was much like her songs -- starting with one, quieter part before adding layer upon layer -- as she was joined after a couple songs in by a gentleman first on saxophone, then on a drum pad.
Hannah's cover was also quite unique; she started with Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs", but the chorus twisted into "Shot For Me" by Drake, and there was even a little bit of the melody of Fred Penner's "The Cat Came Back" for good measure. It was probably the neatest of all the covers not only in the night, but the whole year. 
She brought the set to an end with the apocalyptic "We Will Host A Party", and if the crowd's response was any indicator, Hannah had plenty of other fans, old or new, in the crowd.
I'm not entirely sure how a solo female violin looper will do in a contest where the top three is historically predominantly male rock bands, but it will be a travesty if she doesn't at least make the top five.

Next up was Amble Greene, the musical project of Cameron Gray. With a backing band that included some nice co-ed backup vocals and some rock sax, he had a pretty straightforward pop rock sound, with a little bit of a folky twinge.
His cover was "Mistake" by Serial Joe, a bit more mellow than its pop-punk original. The choice to cover a song that most people outside of the 90's have forgotten made sense, as a lot of his set had a bit of a 90's influenced vibe to it. Though there was one song that stood out and I really liked; I didn't catch the name of it, but it was a bit darker and more moody than the rest of the songs.
Aside from a bit of recurring feedback, it was a decent set. Nothing spectacular, but inoffensive. He also had a projection screen to his side for the whole set, with images and video clips played on it, but it wasn't terribly visible for someone half way back in the venue.

BESTiE hit the stage next, with a pair of cheerleaders out for their first song. They had a ridiculously fun and catchy tropical power-pop sound, that immediately got people moving and dancing as they kicked off the set with "Pineapple". The band was full of energy, especially lead singer Tristan Orchard, who barely stood still on stage.
They brought out some friends to help them with their cover, a horn section (in costumes) and members of Humans for a really strong rendition of "Eyes of a Stranger" originally by Payola$. The horn section stayed on stage for their last couple songs, and the stage filled up even more as they invited "everyone that likes hot sauce" up for a big dance party for their final sing, "Sriracha".
I'm not sure if I would go home and listen to a BESTiE album, as there wasn't much variation in their songs, but they are a really fun and high energy live band that I would want to see play again.

The final band of the night, and of the showcase series for this year, was Abbotsford's  Oh No! Yoko. They were another band that I came in to this year's competition with a bias towards, but unfortunately it was not the good kind. I had seen them a couple years ago, and never really bought into the buzz around them, but I was interested to see how they've progressed.
The trio has definitely gotten more cohesive, as the band grew up together through high school, but their songs just fall flat to me; part of it might be the "yelpy" vocal style, which I am not really a fan of, but for whatever reason, I just can't connect with their math-rock sound.
Their set was pretty upbeat and energetic, thought there was a bit of a slowdown in the set when they had to set up and take down the keyboard in the middle of their set for their cover, a nice synthy version of The Guess Who's "These Eyes". After they brought the energy back up, they wrapped up with the only older song they played in their set, "90's Kids" and even got some of the remaining fans crowdsurfing.
They also give off a bit of that "we're too cool to care" vibe, which can sometimes rub me the wrong way. If they give a song a derisive introduction, then why should I care about it?

And with that, the showcase portion of the fifth year of the Peak Performance Project comes to a close. Now, and until the 25th of October, each of the twenty bands needs to solicit their fans for the voting portion of the competition, as well as write some business-type reports, and hope for the best. The top five is announced on November 5th, with the fifth and fourth places named, and on November 21st someone will be walking away with a giant novelty cheque for $102,700 as the top three is unveiled at the Commodore Ballroom.

And if you're curious, I'm pulling for a top five of Rykka, Hannah Epperson, Willhorse, The Lion The Bear The Fox, and Towers and Trees.