It was a chilly night in Toronto and going into the Rivoli was an excellent way to spend the evening. A trifecta of local up and coming acts hit the stage in the restaurant’s back room. Birds of Bellwoods hit the stage first and the four-piece band lined up in a row, a formation that shows that all members are the most important. With their lush harmonies, provided by all members of the band and Ozark style folk music, these guys were a treat to watch. Their songs alternated between deeply personal forlorn love and loss songs with haunting melodies, and barnburner dance numbers. In stark contrast to their very serious music, between songs the banter between members and the audience was very funny. Acoustic guitarist Adrian Morningstar took off his button up shirt to play up a sexy bit, prompting banjo player Chris Blades to flash the crowd. What stands out the most for these guys is mandolin player Stevie Joffe’s fantastic voice. He can hit the hit notes in one song and growl like a madman in the next. Hearing a cover of “an old folk song” aka Idioteque by Radiohead. It was fascinating to witness with Morningstar and double bass player Kintaro Akiyama recreating the hi-hat drum sample beat by banging on their instruments.
The few times I have seen Mirian Kay perform she always has a different setup. I have seen her play her acoustic guitar solo, with a full backing band and on this night she just had Eric Purcell, a conga player supporting her. Mirian’s music is hard to describe. She isn’t really folky, but her songs have folk mixed with roots influences. She isn’t poppy, but her songs are written in a pop-like manner. She also has a bit of world music to her sound utilizing African beats and Latin guitar playing. I Am, had a very earthy groove to it, the kind of song that you could hear in a salsa club and imagine that gypsies are dancing to it. You can tell in some of Mirian’s songs that she is a fan of strong independent female vocalists. You’re No Good, could just have easily been turned into a disco song and sung with great empowerment by Donna Summer, but Mirian makes it her own. She has quite intricate guitar playing skills, and with Purcell’s fantastic percussion beats they sounded great together. Watching Purcell’s hands pitter patter complex rhythms on only two congas was hypnotizing to watch, and seeing his hands do little flourishes adding a subtle texture to the songs made it even more impressive.
Mirian has a soaring voice that can hit some very hit notes. At one point she put her guitar down and moved the mic stand away to perform a section of Gloria Estefan’s hit, Conga, and doing her own sexy Spanish dance with the impressively fast drum beat played by Purcell. She transitioned it into her own Latin style song, which showed off the most range of the night. The set alternated between sad, wistful songs and happy numbers proclaiming the joys of love. While it is hard to pin down Mirian Kay’s genre, her voice and talent alone makes her a real treat to watch, no matter who she is playing with. Add in the fact that Kay played with best conga player this side of the Carlos Santana Band makes for a night of slow dancing and fast grinding.
Milan Boronell, who just goes by the stage name Milan, closed the night off. Before starting his set he passed out a sheet of paper with about thirty well known songs on it, a list of covers he knows how to play and asked for crowd suggestions from said list, during his set. Milan played mostly original songs, songs he would explain the meaning of beforehand. Most of his songs from his set revolved around an old relationship of a girl he met while working as a cruise ship performer where this woman worked too. Some of the songs were about falling in love, some about regret and falling out of love. Milan has a Bruno Mars-meets-Mumford and Sons style of playing, folk styling’s with pop sensibilities. Some of the audience suggested covers that Milan played included Can You Feel The Love Tonight (The Lion King Soundtrack), Stay With Me (Sam Smith), and Yesterday (The Beatles). Milan had a second microphone set up with a looping machine. He built up a wall of harmonies for the choruses and layered simple guitar parts to make it sound like he had a full backing band on stage with him. While he has a powerful voice and a story to tell, it would have been nice to seem him put some of the same energy and looping technics to his original work as well, as the covers were some of his most impressive moments of the night. You can tell Milan loves to entertain and make connections with people, which is all that matters with music.