Rykka @ Fox Cabaret -- 09/25/15ener

Rykka has been a little quiet since winning the 2013 Peak Performance Project. But only because she has been hard at work on her new album, splitting her time between Canada and Switzerland. Just last month she released the first single from it, and this weekend she returned to Vancouver for a taste of some new songs at the Fox Cabaret. 

Opening the night was current PPP top 12 artist Little India. The Langley four-piece played indie-pop that had a hint of influence from the early 00's indie-rock/post-punk wave of bands. 
The band teased some new songs, as well as well as their current Peak single "Oola". I though they put on a fine set, but nothing really stood out for me until the last couple songs; I didn't get the name of either, but the latter started moody and intense, before ramping up to an explosive ending. 
The young band has been doing well in radio competitions the last few years -- aside from The Peak, snagging Best of BC on the now-defunct The Shore and winning Fox Seeds -- and I'll be interested to see how they progress. 

Thanks to the curfew for the show, it wasn't long before Rykka was out, with a slimmed down backing band of Jason Cook on drums and Andrew Braun on keys and bass (sometimes both in the same song). She also brought onstage a small, personal trampoline, which just added to her already lively, bubbly energy as she occasionally bounced while singing and playing the drum pad. 
She immediately launched into her breakthrough single "Blackie", followed by "Maps Inside" from her last album Kodiak, getting the crowd into it right away, before leading us into a couple new songs. They had the same eletro-rock explosiveness as her previous album, but also felt like a nice progression of her sound.
Mid-way through the set, she brought things down for a moment with the beautiful "Grasslands", before Cook & Braun took a break while Rykka did a chilled out version of The Police's "Roxanne" on guitar. 
A couple of the new songs that stood out came later in the set, and back to back: a somewhat existential song which I think may have been called "A Hundred Years", followed by an R&B-pop-infused hit that, mark my words, is destined to be a giant crossover hit. 
After her ridiculously catchy new single "Movies" she wrapped up the main set with the appropriately titled "Electric", getting the crowd clapping along. But of course she was back out for an encore, playing one last, new song. 

I've always enjoyed seeing Rykka perform -- even back before her Ryan-Guldemond-mentored transformation from Christina Maria to Rykka -- and this show reminded me of that. I don't think the new album has a release date quite yet, but based on what I heard, I am definitely looking forward to it.

Blackie, Map Inside, Bad Boy*, Tickety-Boo*, The Brink, Grasslands, Roxanne [Police cover], Ghosting*, Down in the Depths, A Hundred Years*, Running Away*, Movies, Electric.
(encore) Chasing Dark.*
*(some of the new songs may be named incorrectly, based on my ability to hear or guess from the chorus)

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 #2 @ Fortune -- 09/19/13

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.

Starting off the night was Vancouver folky singer/songwriter Lydia Hol. Her and her backing band -- whose dress code was "meet the parents" -- included Mike Fraser on violin and Georges Couling on keys. With Hol's occasional mandolin, it gave the folk songs a rich sound.
She had a really nice voice, smooth and strong, with good songs, but nothing really stood out. It was an enjoyable set, but there wasn't anything that made me clamour for more.
Members of Head of the Herd came out to help Lydia with her Classic Canadian Cover, a pretty straightforward version of The Tragically Hip's "New Orleans Is Sinking", and she ended with a big sing along, handing out a tambourine into the crowd.

Next up was a trio of musicians who go by The Lion The Bear The Fox. All three of them had solo careers, to various degrees of success, but Christopher Arruda (the lion), Cory Woodward (the bear), and Ryan McMahon (the fox) joined together for something much more than the sum of its parts. Their set began with a funny introductory video, and began with a mighty roar as they launched into what may best be described as "stomp rock".
Though technical difficulties after the first song slowed things down, the trio vamped and covered well enough that they didn't completely lose momentum -- the charismatic Woodward talked and joked with the crowd before requesting a danceable beat from their drummer -- and before long they were back in the swing of things.
The trio had great harmonies, their voices blending together really well, and they had my favourite cover of the; they started off with Arcade Fire's "Wake Up", but swerved into "Hand In My Pocket" by Alanis Morisette. Previous years, other bands had done medleys, but this was the first time I had heard a mashup, which was a really interesting take. By the end, they had most of the crowd singing along to both songs.
After their cover they ended with a pair of hugely energetic numbers, "Freedom" and their cover of Ray LaMontagne's "Henry Nearly Killed Me"
I have to say, I have been pleasantly surprised by the trio, and I hope they do well in this year's competition.

Vancouver's Rolla Olak was up next, joined by some familiar faces; namely John Sponarski and Erik Nielson to round out his band, and Lydia Hol came out to help him on vocals for a couple of songs. He had a boot stomping, bluesy folk sound, and a clear passion, but he was lacking a bit in stage presence.
For his cover, he chose to "take back" the Brice Cockburn classic "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" from the Barenaked Ladies, for a solid cover; you could tell it was a song close to his heart.
Near the end of the set he invited all the other musicians on stage -- some from bands partaking in the project, others who just happened to be in the crowd -- for another big singalong, getting the crowd into it too. That wasn't the end, though, as he finished with one last song, a fiery blues rocker.

I fully admit, going in to this year of the Peak Performance Project I had some biases. Bands I already knew I did not care for and bands I was already a fan of, and Rykka definitely fell into the latter category. I liked her when she first went through the Project the first time, under her real name Christina Maria as a folk-pop singer/songwriter. But she has since reinvented herself with a more dark, synthy electro-rock sound, and is all the better for it.
Rykka's incredible voice drove the catchy songs like "Blackie" -- which relied on Rykka thumping her chest to get the vocal effects rather than any electronic trickery -- and "Shotgun" which she got the crowd singing along to.
Her cover was a synthed up version of The Guess Who's "American Woman"; of all the bands that night I would have expected a Guess Who cover least from Rykka, and her version perfectly straddled the line of making it her own and not straying too far from the original.
The set came to an end with the very appropriately titled "Electric", perhaps the most high energy song of the night, ending the showcase with a bang.
Rykka had a great confidence and energy on stage, putting on the best showcase I have seen so far this year; I will be very surprised and disappointed if she does not at least make the top three.

Overall, it was a strong night of showcases; it would be hard pressed for another one to be as "all around good" as this one, but they'll have to give it a shot next week with Luca Fogale, Fallbrigade, Van Damsel, and Good For Grapes.