There is nothing like a hometown show of emerging bands. The crowd is energetic, everyone seems to know each other and everyone knows all the words to the songs. The Mod Club hosted the album release party for Birds of Bellwoods and fellow Toronto band, Midnight Vesta, joined in on the festivities.
The show was a surprisingly early one, with Midnight Vesta hitting the stage at 7:30 PM on Saturday night. Their mix of earnest folk music and country and blues-rock was stunning to finally see live. I’ve been aware of them for a bit as fellow Live in Limbo contributor Brooklyn Doran went on tour with them earlier this year, and their album Seconds will hopefully be a contender for our top 50 albums of the year. What I wasn’t prepared for was being blown away by the sheer talent and stage presence they had. A lot of emerging bands have either raw talent with lots of potential or are polished with mediocre songs but Midnight Vesta was neither. Their talent was fully formed with great songs to boot. The set mostly consisted of tracks from Seconds like Moving Day and Someone to Call My Own. They played probably the best cover of a The Band song you will ever hear in Ophelia that rocked really hard. The band seemed utterly ecstatic to play the song as every member danced around stage with big grins on their faces. They also played several new songs that they said were written while on a recent west coast road trip. Eventually all the band members left the stage except lead singer Peter Jarvis who played The Only Other Person in the Room as a beautiful ballad. While it was my first time seeing this thrilling band, it won’t be my last, so get used to me singing their praises.
Birds of Bellwoods have decided that their bird should be a phoenix, not that they are in ashes but that they are rising up with a new sound ready to conquer the world, one show at a time. The band used to be a pure folk/bluegrass group but much like Mumford and Sons on their Wilder Mind transition, the band is now embracing the powers of electric guitars and synths making them more of an indie rock band with a pop twist.
In the past, the four piece has played with a live drummer to create a fuller sound, but this was the most diverse lineup I had seen from them yet as they also had a violinist and two horn players to compliment their sound. They band started with the high energy Hey Hey from the soon to be released album Victoria. The band has a tradition of all lining up in a row to play to indicate that no member is bigger or smaller than the sum of its parts, so if you want to call lead singer Stevie Joffe the front man, it is in name only. Joffe put away his mandolin to sing Let You Go, and went full on rockstar, getting the crowd to clap along as he threw around his mic stand.
The horn section made their first appearance on Kiss Me, another new song that was one of several tracks being played live for the first time. Guitarist Adrian Morningstar strutted around stage playing the groovy melody while looking effortlessly cool. One of the bands trademarks is their harmonies and hearing them all sing their “ooo ooo’s” showed that they are all very capable singers. One of the older favourites, Roll Your Stone, brought back the folk and bluegrass stylings it was also the first song of the night to feature Chris Blades playing the banjo. On an extended breakdown Kintaro Akiyama went on a crazy stand up bass jazz solo that would have made Charles Mingus proud. You rarely see great bass solos, but when you see one as epic as Akiyama’s the crowd rightfully went nuts for it.
As a front man, Joffe has always had confidence on stage. Although in the time the band has spent working on new material they have also played bigger show opening for Wintersleep and Arkells, he has tapped into an absurd amount of swagger that bands making the next big jump need. The band used to play a great cover of Radiohead’s Idioteque, but decided to mix things up and play the wholly unexpected Zedd and Alessia Cara song Stay. Joffe complimented the crowd, as being “fucking awesome”. The band so far has released two singles A Year Ago and Catching Up, for the later Joffe sat on the edge of the stage to sing the quiet intro before jumping into the crowd as the song picked up intensity and danced with people that swarmed around him.
The band half jokingly asked for whisky shots and someone actually brought a bunch of shot glasses for them and handed them to Blades. Blades then had his guitar strap come undone and he almost sent everything flying, luckily he managed to save the drinks as his guitar hit the stage hard. The band toasted the crowd and thanked them all for coming out and supporting them before launching into Melatonin, which will be the first track off of Victoria.
The unnatural heat wave happening at the end of September made things pretty hot inside the venue despite the air conditioning running high. The band was visibly dripping with sweat as they were pouring their everything into the show, and because the crowd couldn’t help but dance to the music they were also drenched making everyone a hot beautiful mess. The band left the stage but quickly came back to loud encore chants and Akiyama finally finished unbuttoning his shirt, which seemed to come open a bit more every few songs. They finished the set with the single A Year Ago and the old standard of theirs Cannibal, an always entertaining number that features Blades playing trumpet. Since there was already a trumpet player on stage the two of them shared a microphone and blasted the notes in unison.
Hometown shows are always the best and this proved to be just the case. Chatting with fellow Toronto musician Colin Mercer who plays in Dress Black he noted how the days of seeing Birds of Bellwoods play intimate shows for $15 are over and we should be expecting to only see them at large venues. The band is on the precipice of something huge and being there to witness something great happening is not something you get to experience very often.