Peak Performance Project Year Seven Launch Party with Good For Grapes & The Wet Secrets @ Fortune -- 05/27/15

The seventh (and final???) year of the Peak Performance Project kicked off last night, in style, at Fortune Sound Club.
Starting with the announcement of the Top 12 (cut back from a Top 20 last year, to accommodate the newly launched Alberta version of the Project), the bands chosen will take part in a week-long bootcamp learning everything that can about the industry, play a series of showcase shows, and take part in other challenges, all to have a shot at the giant novelty cheque for $102,700 presented to them by Music BC and 102.7 The Peak.

This year kicked off with a "Victory Tour" of last year's winner Good for Grapes, and the first PPP Alberta winner The Wet Secrets, after the live announcement of the top 12. They started here in Vancouver and will tour across BC and Alberta, finishing off in Calgary for their Top 12 launch party.

It has been something like eight years since The Wet Secrets last played Vancouver (one of their members was only 14 at the time!) and thanks to that, I had never had the seen them play live. So I was very much looking forward to it, having heard nothing but great things.

When they six-piece band from Edmonton hit the stage, the first thing you notice -- okay, the second thing you notice, after their matching marching band uniforms -- is their unique instrument composition. No guitar, just lead singer Lyle Bell on bass, and a strong horn section with Kim Rackel & Emma Frazier on trumpet & trombone, respectively (as well as backing vocals, and some sweet choreographed backup dancing) and Christan Maslyk rocking the sax. Drummer Trevor Anderson and Paul Arnusch on keys (and congas) rounded out the band.

But of course the spectacle of their outfits wouldn't mean a thing if they didn't back it up with their music, and they certainly did with a fun and catchy alt-pop sound. They started off with "I Can Swing A Hammer", the first song from their upcoming album, before ramping up the energy for the raucous marching song "Secret March", one of my favourites, and a song that will be stuck in your head for days.

Other highlights included "If I Was a Camera", which asked the crowd to take off their clothes, as the band went first, doffing their marching band jackets during the song, and "Get Your Shit Together", a song to listen to "when experiencing technical difficulties with the people of Earth."

And as fun as The Wet Secrets' music sounds, it often hides some darker (and, more often than not clever) lyrics. Lyle introduced one song as the happiest song about murder/suicide, and another favourite "Sunshine" is a cheery song about wanting to escape a dreary city (Edmonton) and "die in the sunlight"

Lyle was also quick to give advice to any of the top 12 bands in the crowd, and tell tales about the fun times they had in the competition last year, especially at the bootcamp, before they finished off their set with a cover of The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry".

It was a really fun set that absolutely lived up to my expectations, and proved that they are definitely worthy of having been the first Peak Performance Project Alberta winner.

It was getting late on a school night and the crowd started to thin, but as soon as Good For Grapes took the stage, their loyal fanbase rushed up to dance along with their folky sounds. The seven members filled the stage with energy and their rich sound filled the room, a set with songs that burst to life with a hint of brass and strings, and spot-on harmonies.

Their biggest song, "Skipping Stone", had people singing and clapping along, and they also included a very interesting version of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" -- which was a little amusing, since one of the challenges in the Project is to learn a "Classic Canadian cover" and yet neither cover in the night was Canadian. They wrapped up the set with another grandiose song that included the obligatory floor tom breakdown, as the crowd chanted for an encore as they left.

To be completely honest, I haven't really been much of a fan of the band over the last couple years, but I can not deny they are very good at what they do. It's just a certain sound that I have grown a little weary of over the last couple years, and I feel that while the band has certainly improved since I first saw them, they haven't really evolved much. But they did mention they just finished a new album, so it'll be interesting to hear the new material.

As for the Top 12 itself, here is the list in order of announcement:

Little India – Langley
Chersea – Port Coquitlam
Smash Boom Pow – Vancouver
Jesse Roper – Victoria
Find the Others – Bowen Island
Mindil Beach – Vancouver
Bed of Stars – Abbotsford
Mike Edel – Victoria
Windmills – Vernon
JP Maurice – Victoria
Joy District – Comox Valley
Van Damsel – Kamloops

Regular readers will/should already know how much I like Chersea, so I was happy (but not at all surprised) when she made it in. She's also the sole female artist this year, but surprisingly not the only looper. Windmills, who I have seen before and like okay, also made it in. Perhaps they'll take after Hannah Epperson, who places second a couple years ago.

Three of the twelve bands are returning; Mike Edel, Van Damsel, and JP Maurice. Honestly, I am not sure that I like returning bands with a smaller pool, especially since JP and Mike also previously placed 4th and 5th (respectively) in 2012 AND it's JP's third time in the project (not even counting his backing up other bands). Van Damsel, at least, has changed their sound a bit since they were in it two years ago, and have been getting a push recently on The Peak; I think they are the early favourites to win.

Most of the other bands I either know in passing; Bed of Stars, or have only seen their names around town; Little IndiaMindil Beach and Smash Boom Pow. The rest of them I am not familiar with at all, and look forward to hearing them.

And the first chance to see them all live will be at the Khatsahlano Street Party, on July 11th, where all 12 bands will play short sets throughout the day on the Peak Stage. See you there!

Tracks on Tracks Launch Party @ Electric Owl -- 05/09/12

Vancouver's Green Couch Productions have been hard at work lately, partnering with VIA Rail and CBC Radio 3 for Tracks on Tracks, taking music fans across the country on the rails. Starting from Vancouver, the music train will be heading east, picking people up along the way, and pulling in to Toronto just in time for NXNE.

Not only will the train be packed with music fans, but bands as well, playing acoustic sets on the train and a few electric platform shows in select towns. Green Couch hand picked a few bands to make the trip; Adaline, The Matinée, Portage & Main, Maurice, Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party, and The Belle Game, and listeners of CBC Radio 3 took part is a giant online poll to select the final three; Chris Ho, Shred Kelly and Sidney York. And if that wasn't enough, CBC Radio 3's own Grant Lawrence will be making the trip, broadcasting his show from the rails.
And to start things chugging along, they threw a fund raising launch party at the Electric Owl.

Kicking off the night was an acoustic set from The Matinée. Matt Layzell, Matt Rose, and Geoff Petrie atop stools started off with their usual opener, "L'Absinthe" and Layzell monologuing in the middle of the song about the story behind it, and their excitement for the train. The short set also included a few new songs, including "Young & Lazy", which had the band channelling some heartland-rock for an amazingly catchy song. After a couple more, including a cover of Ryan Adams' "Let It Ride", they brought their set to an end with the rollicking "Sweetwater", which is going to be a fantastic sing-along song for the train.

Next up was Good for Grapes, filling the stage with people, and instruments like horns and keys and an accordion. Despite being from Vancouver, they have a very Maritime-folk sound, with that clear Celtic influence. They began with an instrumental, an intense sonic assault, and they didn't let up for the rest of the set. Even though there wasn't much banter or talking, the young band had a fantastic energy on stage  -- especially the accordion player, who couldn't stand still for a minute and was hollering the lyrics without a microphone. While the set felt like it may have gone on a little long, it was still highly enjoyable and their enthusiasm was very infectious.

And wrapping up the night, Portage & Main, another band will be making the trip on the train, and were visibly excited for it. They kicked off the high energy set with the opening two songs from their self titled debut, "Nothing" and "What Have I Done?", and were firing on all cylinders from the beginning. It's hard to imagine they've only been a band for a year, as John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly have such a great chemistry together, playing off each other (both musically and personality-wise) perfectly.
One of the highlights of the set was definitely "Sweet Darling", a fantastically intense and raw dirty blues-rocker, and they wrapped up the night with their usual set-enders; first "I'd Never Climbed a Mountain", which starts soft and builds to a great intense ending, followed by the bar-room sing-along "Carolina".
If this night was any indication, the train trip is going to be a hell of a ride.

If you want to help support Green Couch, you can do so at their IndieGoGo page; donations will grant you everything from a simple "thanks" to t-shirt to postcards from the road to associate producer credits for the film.
And, most exciting of all, if you're not on the train you'll be able to live vicariously through this blog. Because I will be. And I'm sure I'll be bringing updates from the rails, whenever possible.

The Matinée @ Venue -- 02/18/12

One of my favourite things to come out of last year's Peak Performance Project was the discovery of The Matinée. I've always had a soft sport for roots-rock and alt-country -- which is odd, since I don't really like "actual" country music -- and I was won over by The Matinée two songs into the first time I saw them live. So there was no way I was going to miss their first show of the year, that was apparently also their first headlining show in Vancouver (which seems surprising).

Starting off the night was current Vancouver buzz band Good for Grapes. With over a half dozen members on stage, they had a rich, lush sound that was folky, with a little bit of a maritime edge to it.
Though there wasn't too much banter between songs, but they had a great dynamic and enthusiasm, especially the incredibly animated accordion player.
Their set seemed too short (also because I missed the first little bit of it) and I will definitely be looking out for them again, hopefully soon.

Washboard Union was up next, who, full disclosure, I had seen years ago as Run GMC and didn't really care for, so I had a bit of a bias going in. Their sound could almost be described as "shit-kicker country", with a very down-south and almost bluegrass feel. And true to their name, they had a washboard out for a few songs to accompany the banjo, fiddle and the rest. While it was a little bit too two-stepping-country for my tastes, they definitely were not bad, as they were all good musicians with great energy. And if the crowd stomping along was any indication, I may have been in the minority.

Not long after -- curfewed shows always run like clockwork -- The Matinée took the stage, kicking it off with "L'Absinthe", with the charismatic Matt Layzell giving us the back story mid-song to get the crowd riled up before "Sweetwater", which had everyone stomping and clapping along. They definitely know how to work a crowd, and they had most of the room in the palm of their collective hands from the beginning.
There were a few new songs throughout the set, including a soft one that had everyone gathered around one mic for group vocals, and one called "Scooterfruit" which was the exact opposite; a huge, rocking song that exploded into an amazing ending that sounded like the band was channelling The Who -- especially drummer Pete Lemon. That led into a pretty spot-on cover of The Tragically Hip's "Grace, Too" and they brought it all to a head with "The Road", with the usual insane drum breakdown seeing every member on drums, and ended with Matt Rose putting on a guitar clinic.
But of course, that wasn't the real end and they were back for one more, just for good measure to cap off the night before Venue was turned over to the shiny shirts for the night.

And the final tally at the end of their set was: three bras thrown on stage, and two pairs of comically oversized underpants.