Day two at Canadian Music Festival was kind of a fail in that everyone seemed to be scheduled for a different time than they were actually playing, and this led to me only being able to see three bands perform. I could have stayed up til 4am to see a fourth, but the busy first day and having to work in the morning prevented me from having that kind of energy. The good part is I still saw two incredible shows, and one decent one.

The first show of the night was one I had been anticipating for weeks. As you may have noticed, I think Al Spx has what it takes to save Canadian music from this awful wave of female performers who seem to think flailing your arms in front of your face and acting eccentric makes you an interesting musician. It’s an epidemic that seems to be growing in this city especially, so watching a Toronto girl get onstage and command it, with a real voice, singing incredible songs, was refreshing.

This was Cold Specks first headlining show, so rather than bunch her in their Friday night showcase where her bluesy soul music wouldn’t have meshed well with their rock band line up, Arts & Crafts booked her a fitting venue all to herself. The Music Gallery is an old church they now use for shows (I’d only ever been there to see Smog play once, years ago), and hers is the kind of music rooted in gospel tradition, so it was the perfect place for her debut.

Though the building was grotesquely hot from the weird heat wave we were having in the city, and the show started later than I had been told when I was invited, this didn’t take away from the performance in any way.

As she took her place in front of the audience, her immediate discomfort at the pressure this show held was obvious. She made shy comments between songs, but eventually relaxed into it, accepting the warm reception she received from the room, telling jokes, and even doing an epic rendition of the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You haven’t heard that song until you’ve heard a real singer perform it.

The highlights of the set were “Holland,” the gorgeous first single from the album, and the epic “Lay Me Down” which she noted was the first song she ever wrote as a teenager – something that continues to blow my mind.

There is a sadness and depth to her music that some may call depressing, and I think she made a conscious choice to be warm, funny and friendly, in order to dispel any potential sad-sack reputation that comes with exposing the darkest part of ones emotions. There is something unique to what she is doing, but it is not depressing in any way, instead it is inspiring in its rawness. I think Cold Specks will be another big Arts & Crafts success story in the tradition of Feist, and I can’t wait for the album to be released.

My love for Wildlife is no secret. I raved about their NXNE performance last June after stumbling upon them in May and being blow away by their talent, energy and sheer songwriting abilities. And they were just as strong for their showcase at Lee’s for CMW. Unfortunately, this was another set that was scheduled for the wrong time, so in a rush I cabbed to the venue right after Cold Specks, but when I arrived the sign said midnight, so I was stuck up at Bloor and Bathurst nowhere near another venue, and my plan to see Topanga play at midnight was ruined. My group didn’t want to check out Tribes (which I now regret) so we killed the hour before their set at Paupers.

When we headed back to Lee’s they were already onstage, and the keyboardist said “this will be our last song” which made my heart stop, thinking the venue had got the time wrong, not the schedule. I was about to flip out thinking I’d missed their set, but when they kept playing I realized it was a joke, thankfully.

The set was short but as praiseworthy as always. I had brought along some friends who had yet to see them, and by the end of their show they were completely blown away, even saying Wildlife was the best band they saw that week by the end of the festival. They do have that effect. I have taken many people to see Wildlife since I came across them, and each one has came out as in love with them as I was after the first time I inadvertently witnessed their magic.

Their new music video might be a rip off of Dan Mangan’s adorable video for “Robots,” that doesn’t quite work for me with the intensity of the song, but live they never ever fail. They played my two absolute favorites from Strike Hard, Young Diamond, “Killing for Fun” and “Drunken Heart” which was all I could ask for, along with their staples “Stand In The Water,” “Sea Dreamer,” and a new song that I can’t wait to get my hands on. I am eagerly anticipating a new release from these guys.

Despite The Dears decade long career that began as a huge part of the Montreal explosion of the early aughts, I’ve never really found their music particularly engaging. And unfortunately, seeing them live at the El Mocambo at this showcase didn’t serve to change that. By the time we arrived after Wildlife, they were already on, and they played quite a long set, closing out the bar for the night. After hanging around the back for a drink I decided to move up, hoping being closer to the performance might increase my interest.

Although following the intense energy of the guys in Wildlife isn’t easy, there were still a few highlights. One I mentioned in my last post (singer Murray Lightburn showing his disdain for the industry types hanging out at the back ignoring the set), another being his hilarious quoting of Kardinal Official’s “The Anthem” (which I’m gonna quote all the time now) engaging the TO pride in the room, and the biggest being a singalong performance of the lullaby-ish  “We Can Have It”, that had the room singing in unison “Someone somewhere says they’ve got it all, but that’s not even what we want, not even close , not even close, it won’t ever be what we want…”  There couldn’t be a more accurate statement representing the attitude of CMW types.

As the set dragged on, my exhaustion started to kick in and I joined my friends who were already falling asleep on the back couches. We stayed until the end of the show, but no one was up for heading to Silver Dollar mere seconds away for Sandman Viper Command, who are an excellent live band that I would have loved to catch.

I think if I were more of a Dears fan going in, or not already exhausted, or had not just seen the always incredible Wildlife, I may have been a lot more into their set than I was, but as it was, it was a long set with too few stand out tracks to make me want to go home and give them another try, in the way that both Joel Plaskett and Dan Mangan successfully did.

Lisa