Concerts Concerts SummerWorks Festival Impresses With Variety, Uniqueness of Performances

SummerWorks Festival Impresses With Variety, Uniqueness of Performances

The Hidden Cameras at Lower Ossington Theatre
SummerWorks Festival
The Hidden Cameras,  and more
The Lower Ossington Theatre in Toronto, Ontario
August 5th - 13, 2010

Review by: Jen Polk
Photos by: Julie Lavelle

The SummerWorks Music Series and Performance Bar offered up an impressive variety of local bands and solo acts. The festival kept up its indie street cred this year by having Wavelengther Kevin Parnell program its musical components. Photographer Julie Lavelle and I checked out the music series' opening night featuring a theatrical performance by The Hidden Cameras. The following week I caught sets by PS I Love You, Diamond Rings, The Weather Station, Entire Cities, The Mountains and The Trees, The Wilderness of Manitoba, Picastro, and Evening Hymns.

The Hidden Cameras

The Music Series debuted on Thursday, August 5th, with a unique show by The Hidden Cameras. The band, performing in a rather smaller venue than they might, took the opportunity afforded them by the festival's theatre focus to show off another side of their creativity. After the audience was seated---in chairs or on the floor, the latter for me and Julie---eight costumed figures took up places on the floor in front of us, with the band behind them seated on a wide stage. In the middle was singer Joel Gibb, dressed like the others in torn clothes and streaks of brown makeup reminiscent of dirt. The getup was inspired by the band's last album, Origin:Orphan, which they were about to play for us in its entirely along with a choreographed dance/theatre element. I admit to having missed the memo on this, and found myself quite confused until the obvious was spelled out for me at the break. My bewilderment and bemusement at the goings-on just in front of me could not distract me from my sore butt, unfortunately. (Why o' why did I choose the floor?!)

But the band played on, and the dancers---who put on an impressive performance given that they'd only first reheared a day earlier---seemed not to miss a cue, but the choreography was less fleshed out than it might have been. A large black hooded figure, whom I was told was Keith Cole, mayoral candidate and cross-dresser extraordinaire, was an ominous figure in the first half of the show. During the second half, the orphans gave him a makeover. (Nice legs, Keith. I'm jealous.) I'm not one for modern dance and such, and thankfully there was less of it after the intermission. (Two songs had no extra accompaniment, and in another a few of them took dance partners from the audience.) I had also abandoned my floor spot to stand against a wall, and my spirits were thus much brighter, as was the mood of the music.

In the end, I enjoyed myself, but I think I would have preferred to see the band play sans orphans.

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PS I Love You

The following Wednesday, August 11th, I was back at the Lower Ossington Theatre for a great, if unoriginal, double bill featuring Kingston, ON, rock duo PS I Love You and Toronto's buzzy electro solo act Diamond Rings. The night's programming had brought out an impressive number of people for a mid-week show. Perhaps the bands' recent signings---PS I Love You to Paper Bag Records and Diamond Rings to Secret City Records---helped get the word out. 

The openers delivered on their promise and them some. I've seen PS a few times before, but had somehow failed to notice lead Paul Saulnier's superlative finger tapping. Between singing, playing guitar, and acting as his own bassist (pedal bass FTW), I'll forgive the man for lacking in banter. Drummer Benjamin Nelson outfitted himself nicely, too. Big cheers greeted various displays of rock 'n' roll goodness and guitar soloing. At the end of the evening, Saulnier and Nelson joined Diamond Rings on stage for a couple more songs: "Facelove" from their split 7" and a never-before-performed one called "Leftovers." Nicely done, men.

Look for the group's debut album, Meet Me At the Muster Station, due 5 October.

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Video: Facelove

Diamond Rings

I look upon Diamond Rings, The D'Urbervilles' John O'Regan's alter-ego, with as much severely misplaced older-sister pride as serious admiration for a man who knows how to get a party started. I've been following this project since late 2008, when it was still an acoustic guitar thing, and while I don't know whether this makes me cool, O'Regan's success since then definitely makes me proud.

This night was another fine performance. The generally-reserved crowd was clearly excited for the set, and they were not disappointed with the performance. His signature over-the-top eye makeup and dance moves were in abundant evidence, but don't let the flash fool you: Diamond Rings' lyrics delivered by a deep, clear singing voice and his spot-on pop melodies threaten to break my heart and/or fill it with joy every time I hear them. From "Show Me Your Stuff" (feat. rapping and a dance breakdown) to the marvelous love song "All Yr Songs," this is a project I am going to keep an eye on.

DR's first full-length, Special Affections, will be out on CD and LP on 26 October. (The day after my birthday, hint hint.) I must have "Something Else," "It's Not My Party," and all his other songs to play at home during impromptu dance parties.

The Weather Station

Thursday night's show was a different beast entirely. It began with The Weather Station, now a duo, charming us with their beautiful, understated songs. Singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman sounded as good as I've heard her. The short set was heavy on new material, and for the band's final song, "Can't Know," the members of Entire Cities played along. It's always a pleasure seeing The Weather Station, and my only complaint is that at 5 songs long, the band's set was much too short!

Lindeman's The Line (2009) is one of my most treasured albums, and I hear a new full-length is in the works.

Entire Cities

After helping out former tourmates and close friends The Weather Station, Entire Cities continued with their own 5-song set. The band, which trades in much more rocking fare than the openers, began with "Talkers" and "Cop Song," both off of Deep River (2008). To my mind, this group has gotten stronger and I was excited to see them. I don't think I was the only one, judging from the warm reaction the band received. Simon Borer and his (on this night) 6-piece band were impressive, and I look forward to taking them in again soon. There's another album in the works, too.

The Mountains and The Trees

Newfoundland's Jon Janes' one-man band The Mountains & the Trees accompanied The Wilderness of Manitoba on their recent cross-Canada tour, and they were kind enough to bring him along to this Toronto show. "Goodbye Little Town," the Dan Mangan-inspired "More & More & More," "Up and Down," and "Letter to A Friend," made it into his set, as well as a new tune. 

Janes has made a name for himself in Canada's over-saturated folk troubadour scene, and I was glad to get a chance to check him out. His lovely melodies and simple, meaningful lyrics, as well as his easy manner on stage made for a nice time.

The Wilderness of Manitoba

The main draw Thursday night was The Wilderness of Manitoba, recently returned from a 5-week tour to celebrate the release of their debut album, When You Left the Fire. The band performed many newly-released songs, including "Bluebird," "The Great Hall," "Orono Park," "In the Family" (a personal favourite), "Summer Fires," "St. Petersburg," "Hermit," "Evening," and "Dreamcatchers." I could be mistaken, but it seemed as if touring has made the band stronger, especially when it comes to integrating percussion into their songs. As always, I was impressed with the band's comfort on stage. The seated set-up suited them very well. All told, it was a very good night of music!

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Music: Hermit
Video: November

Picastro

The following night, Friday, August 13th (I know, I know), I took in what turned out to be my final SummerWorks show. (I had hoped to catch Bocce on Saturday, but a very, very, very long wait for a ferry to get off the Island after the Arcade Fire show ensured that wouldn't happen.) Picastro was up first, a band I'd never seen but heard positive things about. I recognized two of the three performers on stage (drummer Brandon Valdivia and cellist Nick Storring), which boded well. But I wasn't keen on singer Liz Hysen's voice or her on-stage persona. The music was strange, too. It grew on me through the first few songs, though. Hysen's awkward banter did not; I expected more from this experienced performer. When it came time for her to tune her acoustic guitar, she spent several minutes trying to get it right. It was painful (for me). And that was all I could take. 

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Evening Hymns

Good thing Evening Hymns was up next. The evening would not be a waste!

The band — Jonas Bonnetta, Sylvie Smith, Tim Bruton, and Shaun Brodie on this night — had a large white sheet behind and above them, on which nothing (it seemed) was projected. From the first song, "Lanterns," I knew the set would be a great time. Next was "Dead Deer," and then a beautiful new song called "New Moon River." By now I'd realized that there was an image on the sheet, or, rather, a video. We were looking at a view from a darkened shore, at water, land and trees opposite, and the sky above. It was a stunning visual, and seemed to be shot in real time: by the end of the performance the sun had risen, and birds were flying across the sky.

The visual aid was appreciated by certainly not necessary; this was a gorgeous performance, music-wise. "Cedars" and "History Books," also off 2009's Spirit Guides, were next, followed by another new tune. Bonnetta's bandmates left him along on stage for the final number, "Mountain Song." Perhaps because of the mood or the night, or the fact that the stage wasn't quite as solid as some others he's played on, Bonnetta sat through this one. His lack of movement made this complex, multi-layered song less awesome than I've experienced before, but little matter. This is a project I highly recommend!

And, so, SummerWorks: thanks very much. Assuming the festival keeps up its streak of impressive indie music programming, count me in again.