Feature: The Balconies, Rah Rah & Two Hours Traffic @ CMW 2013
Oh, Canadian Music Week! (hand on the heart) East coast, prairies, the west coast, and everything in between; each showcasing their homegrown talent like an offering to the gods! Except their offerings weren’t goats, but delicious up-and-coming musical acts and the gods weren’t somewhere up on a mountain or in the clouds, but were actually mere mortals huddled close to the stage. With over 1000 artists, the choice was torturous: go see one of your favourites again? your friend’s band? or the band you’ve heard so many good things about? After trying to cram as many shows as possible (plus back-ups) into a six-day stretch on my trusty white-board, I decided to go see ONE band I loved and just wing the rest. Pat on the head already administered, I can say that, as expected, The Balconies rocked my socks off! Seriously, I was standing next to a huge speaker, ear-plugs in place, and I felt my clothing and hair vibrate. It took me a while to realize that there was nobody tugging at my clothes.
The mood set by The Balconies from the very first song to the oh-too-soon last song can only be described as electrifying. The empty dance-floor at Lee’s Palace filled up as soon as the opening band, The Trouble with Templeton, started unplugging their gear. Clearly the crowd was excited to see the sister and brother duo, Jacquie and Stephen Neville, and of course Liam Jaeger. To the surprise of those who knew the band, Liam was playing guitar instead of drums and Jacquie announced that they are now a 4-piece band, with Steve Molella on drums. The new set-up feels more balanced and there’s the added bonus of double the electric guitars.
Jacquie thanked the audience for being here on a cold night in a sweet voice and her usual approachable demeanor. But when the music started she transformed into a fiery dragoness, strumming her chords while performing a perfect rock-and-roll lunge. Her timing is so precise that she’s going to surprise you with a split-second hair-whip in the time it takes to get from one lyric to the next. New fans, who have never seen them live, can be spotted by how glued they are to Jacquie’s movements around the stage. She turns their heads like a puppeteer, hypnotizing them not only with her big eyes, but also her soaring and pure voice. While Jacquie may be the cherry on top, let’s not forget about all that whip cream supporting her, a trio of talented musicians who played their instruments with confidence and skill. And for those of you who are dying to see them live again, they’ll be back from their European tour in late spring.
What band could follow this awe-inspiring rock performance? They spelled out their name with waist-high balloon letters: “R”, “A”, “H” – also known as Rah Rah. The six-piece (only five members for this tour, though) band from Regina, Saskatchewan even brought two charmingly creepy cat stuffed animals that moved to the music and positioned them on the amps. The props coupled with the fact that some band-members were barefoot transformed the stage from a cold wooden box into a warm, cozy living room. They were definitely highly anticipated since the floor was even more packed than during the previous performance, if that’s possible. I even suspected they brought some fans with them from Saskatchewan, because the guy who kindly switched places with me, so I could have a better view of the stage, couldn’t have been from Toronto.
They opened with “Art and a Wife”, a feel-good tune that’s got enough kick to make it impossible not to dance. It became clear from the first song that this was a very cohesive band, with no clear front-man/woman. The rest of the performance solidified this idea, each song showcasing a different band member. Their musical talent was highlighted not only by the effortless, sweet harmonies but also by the fact that they constantly switched instruments, sometimes in the middle of a song. Drums, keys, violin, ukulele, and tambourine did not have a clear owner. It turned into a fun party on stage that easily engulfed the audience with up-beat favourites, such as “Prairie Girl”. The band used everything around them: amps, walls, and banisters as percussion and, at one point, there were three people on drums!
Half-way through their show, Rah Rah proceeded to show a more sensitive side with “Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel”. It speaks to their great skill and talent to pull off a ballad that can conquer even the most die-hard Balconies fan. They saved their best entertainment gimmick for the last song, “First Kiss”, when they threw the letter balloons into the audience, which were bounced around for almost the entire song and had the effect of blurring the line between performers and audience (or – making the audience feel less like passive bystanders observing a show and more like a vital component of a vibrant performance!).
Next up was an act from Charlottetown, PEI, named Two Hours Traffic. Having been compared to the likes of Beach Boys or Big Star, they delivered heartfelt, catchy pop tunes. They embraced their Canadian side by saying they had missed the snow while in Austin, Texas. Very poetic, but I’m sure a lot of people would have gladly traded the cold Toronto slush for the Texan sun.
The 4-piece band created and maintained a fun, light atmosphere with songs such as the witty “Amour Than Amis” and the catchy “Jezebel”. The latter has been featured on a variety of TV shows, including Gossip Girl and Castle, among many others. Overall their performance was solid and technical difficulties were resolved with lots of humour, which speaks to their experience as well as their comfort on stage. They weren’t relying on visuals and audience interaction as much as the previous bands, which made the stage presence a tad uneventful. But I truly hope that their melancholy and depth were not overshadowed by the electrifying and vibrant performances of the two previous bands.