During Canadian Music Week, you have a nice combination of shows being put on. You have a ton of upcoming acts hailing mostly from Canada playing in every tiny dingy bar across the city, top tier mid-card international acts that get their own showcases to show the world they are ready to blow up, tours from legit headlining acts that the CMW brand attaches their name to and lastly big sponsored shows where a ton of bands play but only get short condensed sets to play. All the of them have their pros and cons, but for the most part CMW has stepped up their game in recent years to put on a premiere festival experience in this changing musical landscape where others have faltered and disappointed. At the sold out Phoenix Concert Theatre on Wednesday night, CMW played host to the 16th annual Indie Awards, celebrating the best in “independent music” (I use the term in quotations as labels such as Sony and Universal seem to have nominated acts and they are anything but independent).
After getting a chance to interview Paul Murphy from Wintersleep, I got back to the theatre to catch the end of Alberta Cross’ set, which certainly had a great energy and warmed the crowd up for the later sets. Seeing just how excited the crowd was for the remaining three acts was quite infectious. The evening was hosted by Indie 88’s Raina Douris (the station was also the main promoter of the show too), and while some of her jokes were cheesy it was all in good fun as she called the Indies “the cool Juno’s or the Juno’s without chairs”. She relished the opportunity to drop a few f-bombs and show some real personality since she can’t exactly do that over terrestrial radio airwaves.
Some of the awards were presented at the ceremony as curtains blocked the stage allowing the next band to set up their gear without long awkward pauses. The first celebrities to hand out an Epiphone Guitar award were Chris Baio (Vampire Weekend and BAIO) and Tara Sloan (hockey reporter) who awarded The Elwins with Rock Artist/Group of the Year.
Having never listened the The Zolas before, I was given a rude awakening of just how great they are. The already fired up crowd danced along with them as they played a handful of songs, mostly off their newest release Swooner. The Vancouver natives exclaimed that Toronto is one of their favourite cities and even played an ode to us, while they also gave special thanks to Indie 88 as “they are the first radio station to give a shit about us”.
Members from July Talk came out to present the award for Single of the Year, but not before giving host Douris a vibraslap a type of instrument that the band Cake uses frequently. As Douris whacked the ball of the vibraslap down it made its very unique clicking rattle and roll sound and she had a look of pure giddiness on her face. Wintersleep won the award for their song Amerika and came out on stage to accept it before they were set to headline the night. Highs came out to present Alternative Artist/Group of the Year to The Zolas who were shocked as they claimed no one in the band had ever won anything before.
The Strumbellas seemed to have the biggest crowd reaction on the night as the burgeoning superstar’s played in a line formation. I had seen them play at TURF last fall and lead singer Simon Ward had his face painted like a skeleton (that no one on stage even acknowledged) and didn’t have a lot of audience banter and on this night he came out in a full grey track suit with the hood pulled over his head making it almost impossible to even see if it was indeed Ward. I was beginning to worry that ward was becoming a recluse and not enjoying the fan interaction you get from touring as they played their first few songs. Except then Ward joked with his bandmates that they weren’t ready for the big party they were at. He stripped off his sweats to reveal baggy floral print pants and a tank that stated ‘Straight Outta Lindsay’ a reference to Ward’s hometown just outside of Peterborough. Keyboardist Dave Ritter put on his trademark DAVE ballcap and bassist Darryl James pulled his tie around his forehead signifying their readiness to rock. They played songs mostly from their new album Hope and their last one We Still Move on Dancefloors. Ward faked the crowd out by saying they had worked on a Mötley Crüe cover song instead breaking out into their latest hit Spirits. Ritter claimed that Toronto was one of their favourite places to play, which I’m sure he totally doesn’t say to every crowd. He also thanked Indie 88 and Toronto for being so supportive of the band in their career so far. They finished their set with Shovels and Dirt as Ward ran around giving high fives to everyone in front of the stage. The energy and passion the band has when everything is clicking for them is spectacular to behold.
The last of the live awards were handed out as the just performed The Strumbellas won Group of the Year, which Dave Ritter claimed he would be giving the guitar award to his mother. During the breaks between sets and after the live presentations the rest of the awards were announced projected on a screen off to the side of the stage. Cheers were let out hearing acts like Grimes, City and Colour, A Tribe Called Red, Purity Ring and others won awards. There was a spattering of murmured confusion as Yoan won Artist of the Year, an act that I had literally never even heard of before as he beat out artists like Grimes, Lights, Carly Rae Jepsen and City and Colour.
The headliners of the night were the Nova Scotia rockers Wintersleep who just released their latest album The Great Detachment a few months ago and their popularity has skyrocketed with the hit single Amerika. The band started out with the new song Santa Fe as the proceeded to play almost exclusively from the new record. While their crowd interaction was minimal, they made sure after every song to thank the fans in attendance would jumped around to their songs. While they mostly played new songs, they made sure to include their most popular song Weighty Ghost in all its glory. The live version of the title track from The Great Detachment had a more of a country stomper twist to it. Paul Murphy promised the crowd that the next time they are in Toronto they will play a longer set apologizing for their 40 minute set as they played Amerika second to last. As their show went on, they seemed to get louder and heavier as they went showcasing a veteran band that knows how to get into a groove nicely.
The Indies are one of the cornerstone shows during Canadian Music Week, and those in attendance got to witness some of the best music being made in our great country. Even looking at the nominees that didn’t win like Dilly Dally, Destroyer, Majical Cloudz, Tobias Jesso Jr., BADBADNOTGOOD, Whitehorse, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Half Moon Run, Mac Demarco, Jazz Cartier, Braids, Purity Ring, Basia Bulat, Dan Mangan and Patrick Watson it is easy to see how truly lucky we are to see some of the greatest music being made and have it from our great country.