November 16, 2013 – There’s something magical about performing in your home city. There’s also something magical about listening to homegrown talent. Maybe it’s because we form a deeper connection with them, given that we’ve walked the same streets as them and eaten at the same greasy spoons. Shad himself must’ve felt this way as he proudly revealed on a cold Saturday night that kids from his grade 6 class were in the audience. And if his music indicates anything, it’s that Shad is all about remembering your roots. The dude was glad to finally be home.
The opening acts were decent. London-based hip hop group The Nicest spat stoner rap after stoner rap. Toronto rapper Casper the Ghost brought his TreeTop Entertainment cronies on stage and exchanged a couple of words. And We Are the City left the crowd drenched in glorious waves of dreamy, saccharine feedback. I’m also quite certain they left a number of people scratching their heads, what with their off-kilter drumming and math rock tendencies.
But Shad stole the show, as expected. He flashed his trademark smile and dove right into “Lost”, the opening track on his new album, Flying Colours. From there on, the crowd was his to command. If he wanted hands in the air, they appeared in seconds. If he wanted a chorus, the crowd gave him one. Even I’ll admit that I was rapping every word to “Stylin’”. Shad could simply do no wrong.
Most of Flying Colours’ hits were delivered, but the real treat, however, was when he dug deep into his discography and brought out his old hits, the tracks that have chronicled his rise as a Canadian hip hop figure. I’m talking about “Rose Garden” and its iconic video, the humorous narrative in “The Old Prince Still Lives at Home”, and “I Get Down”, the song that probably started it all. Needless to say, the crowd went crazy.
Every October, about two weeks after Thanksgiving, the city of Halifax transforms as 180 bands play in over 20 bars across five days for the Halifax Pop Explosion. You may wonder whether it’s practical for the city, as images of Coachella and Osheaga come to mind, but Halifax is home to the highest amount of bars per capita in Canada and the city is quite small, 262.65 square kilometres to be exact. Walking from bar to bar is an easy feat and there is even a free festival bus to get around the city. The Halifax Pop Explosion hosts a variety of events, including digital workshops and art markets during the day, and in the evenings the city is filled with music. Here is a first hand account of some shows with photos to entice you to visit Halifax next year.
The Zolas were a perfect start to the festival with their upbeat indie tunes. The Zolas epitomize the Canadian indie rock scene with sing-along melodies and some enthusiastic musicians, causing vivacious singing and dancing from the band and the crowd. They played in the intimate Gus’ Pub in the north end of Halifax, letting the crowd get within arms reach, and instigating Zachary Gray (vocals/guitar) to jump out into the crowd.
Bandcamp: The Zolas – Ancient Mars
The Garrison at Fort York has become the go-to festival grounds in Toronto this summer, and with good reason. Avoiding the annoyance of getting to either Downsview Park or the ferry to Toronto Island, Arts&Crafts’ inaugural Field Trip provided a great showcase for the label’s roster and the treat of seeing You Forgot It in People performed in its entirety by Broken Social Scene. Add the multitude of food options, great beer provided by Amsterdam Brewery, and other events, and it proved the grounds could be used with great success. The Toronto Urban Roots Festival was a different beast, stretched over four days, but it managed to weather a torrential downpour on the final day, ending with a triumphant set by Belle & Sebastian. So when the Grove Music Festival was forced to evacuate its original location in Niagara-on-the-Lake (while losing acts like Bob Mould and Macklemore), it seemed the infrastructure for a successful day was already in place.
However, the Grove Music Festival proved to be a poor facsimile of previous events, suffering from several disappointing developments. The set times for Palma Violets and Wavves were swapped with zero notice. Drinks were available for the ridiculous price of $11 a can, while the only water available was some sort of strange brand of “sport water.” The Jagermeister tent in the middle of the crowd served to block sightlines, and was complete with staff obnoxiously squirting passersby with super soakers on a rather mild day. There was a lack of merch from any of the headliners, to the point where the tent was selling discounted Edgefest shirts from a few days before. The forty minute set times for the likes of Hot Chip, Girl Talk and the Gaslight Anthem were ludicrously short. Earl Sweatshirt’s 20 minute set was its own joke. But most damning of all was the atrocious sound mix. The vocals were muffled and at times inaudible, particularly during Hot Chip’s otherwise stellar set. These issues seemed to be fixed by the time Phoenix hit the stage, but it cast a pall over the day. The other gripes could have been forgiven had the sound not been an issue.
Amidst all of this holiday season craziness, here is a list of favourite things that happened at the Halifax Pop Explosion 2012, the twentieth anniversary of the festival, for you to ponder how awesome the festival is and why you should probably attend it next year.
Not sure if you guys all know (you probably do) but of Montreal is fantastic live. Hands down one of the more entertaining shows I’ve ever been to. I found myself giggling uncontrollably a number of times throughout their concert, which included body suits, pretend action fights, and lots and lots of balloons. When two guys in bodysuits unleashed long, tied-together balloons from between their legs (resembling a number of things…) I was quite taken aback at first, but it was absolutely hilarious and the balloons created some unbelievable fun in the crowd. More magic was added with Kevin Barnes adorning the stage in lace and vibrant make-up, which, when paired with the psychedelic lights and their funky pop music, made for a lively and delightful show.
Canadian Music Week isn’t quite as big as NXNE, but this year’s edition boasted a few must-see shows each night, even with notable cancellations like Childish Gambino. Though my initial intent was to just see Wintersleep for the first time in a couple years, winning a wristband made me decide to get to Toronto a day early to get some use out of it.
The prime event for Friday night was, of course, the Arts&Crafts showcase at the Horseshoe Tavern, featuring the new ex-Stills/Broken Social Scene project Eight and a Half, The Darcys, Zeus, and others. As good as that line-up looked, it also meant the wristband line-up stretched out to Spadina, so unless you were there early or had a ticket, you were out of luck.
So instead, it was off to Lee’s Palace to catch Cloud Nothings. Attack on Memory is one of the more hyped releases this year, and the band performed it in its entirety. Opening with ‘Stay Useless’, ‘Fall In’, and ‘Cut You’, they quickly got my three favourite songs out of the way, and I was left to absorb the rest of the set. Little to no banter occurred between songs, and the riffs started to blend together towards the end. I was hoping for something more, but the crowd seemed to approve.
Saturday began with catching a bit of Little Foot Long Foot’s in-store set at Sonic Boom’s new location in Honest Ed’s. Not having been in the city since the Dollarama announcement, I was impressed with the new space, as well as the vinyl specialty store in Kensington Market. Sadly, I realized too late that Zeus was doing an in-store performance later in the day, and will have to settle for seeing them in London in a few weeks.