I arrived to the Horseshoe for the Arts & Crafts showcase just after 10pm, weary at the thought of another very long night ahead of me, but very excited for this lineup. I figured arriving in time for their set would ensure I’d have no issue getting in, as they were only the second band of the night, but of course, Arts & Crafts knows how to pack a venue so there was a long line up already when I got there. Disappointed, I contemplated joining all my friends who chose to go to the El Mocambo for the Dine Alone showcase (which had another great lineup, but it didn’t even come close to this in sheer quality of bands playing, in my opinion). Luckily, being media sometimes has its perks, and I was pulled out of the long line by someone I’ve admired for years, and was able to catch the very end of Gold & Youth’s set.

I definitely didn’t catch enough to give a proper review, but the last two songs I heard were enough to leave me wanting more. Their first single “Time To Kill” is infectious in its rhythms, the use of layering and harmonies in their sound is enviable for such a young band, and the vocals have a deep Ian Curtis-ish tone to them. By all accounts they sound like a British band, and I mean that as a big compliment. This electro-rock trio was the perfect lead in for the next band.

I recently wrote about Eight and a Half after their first show at the Drake, so I won’t go into much detail again, but I will say the shows they played between that one and this showcase obviously upped their confidence and cohesion as a band, and any uncertainty present in their first show had dissipated at this point. They seemed more comfortable together, and seeing them again only served to confirm my initial belief that they are a band to watch out for.

Despite The Darcys self titled debut easily making my top 10 Best Albums of 2011 list, for one reason or another I kept missing out on them live, so as you can imagine my anticipation for this set was huge. I loved the album, but could they live up to the hype? Of course, they met and exceeded my high expectations, and I was instantly in love with them from the first song in.

I had heard the comparisons to Radiohead all along and noticed a slight influence in the vocals, but didn’t realize why they so regularly received the compliment until I witnessed Jason Couse on that stage. Seeing Radiohead live was possibly the best musical experience I’ve ever had in my life, so comparing someone to the genius that is Thom Yorke is my highest praise. Clearly, his performance skills are very much influenced by Yorke’s spastic trance like stage presence, and it made for a show I will never forget.

The most memorable songs of their set had to be “Shaking Down The Old Bones” and of course, the incredible “Don’t Bleed Me,” but I’m sure if you asked someone who is more of a Steely Dan fan than I am, they would have went with one of their Aja covers. At the end of the day, they are a spectacular (and well dressed) band in the studio as well as on the stage, and I will now be making it a point to never miss another Toronto show of theirs again.

Zeus could probably be called my favorite (established and currently active) Canadian band. To say I love them is a gross understatement. They are one of those bands I refuse to miss live. Even if a bigger international band is in town and has a show the same night as them, I know their performance won’t compare to what Zeus will give out. They are the one band that I can truly say, I feel sorry for you if you’ve never witnessed their energy and talent in person.

Every single song they’ve recorded is single worthy, pure 60s/70s nostalgic bliss (and not in that currently popular but dated one note throwback way, they always remain modern and timeless in their sound). Because – like the Beatles – they have three hugely talented songwriters/multi-instrumentalists, they manage to cover all the bases within one band, never slipping into anything even remotely boring. And with the recent release of their second album Busting Visions, they’ve proved yet again their infinite potential.

I’m starting to wish all bands would employ that Beatlesy multiple songwriter format, as it is the best way to ensure the records are incredible. When each musician only gets three songs, there is no doubt they are putting out their best work. And being surrounded by writers as talented as you are allows for a high level of quality control and feedback that other bands just don’t have.

Before they even took the stage I could see the setlist, and was floored when I saw they were opening with “Heavy On Me,” which happens to be my favorite song on Say Us and is in my opinion the sexiest song ever recordedfollowed only now by their incredible “Hello Tender Love” which I also saw on the setlist and had a little freak-out about. That was the song I was waiting for, having literally played it on repeat non stop the week leading up to the show (I get obsessive like that about certain songs). They honestly could have played 20 minutes of guitar noodling after those two and I would have been more than happy.

When they came out, I had to laugh at the perfectly mustached Carlin Nicholson’s amazing bedazzled white leather jacket – he always proves to be the showman of the band in the same way Chris Murphy is in Sloan. I always feel sad when a band lacks that superstar personality.

After sexing the room up with “Heavy on Me” they owned the night with “River By The Garden,” their epic cover of Genesis’ “That’s All,” “Love In A Game,” and of course their current single, the infectious “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” Unfortunately, because of time restraints they ended up not playing the setlist as I saw it, and my heart sank when it appeared they had skipped over “Hello Tender Love,” but towards the end of their set Carlin asked the audience what we wanted them to play, and I immediately seized the opportunity to call out for it (along with many others, I’m sure) and sure enough, he said “We heard ‘Hello Tender Love,’ we weren’t gonna play that one, but we will.” It’s rare I will scream for anything at a show as I usually find those people obnoxious, but this was a situation that warranted it, and thankfully it paid off. It’s very likely I won’t get the chance to see them play again until Osheaga in August, so I had to have it.

The set was super short which had to be disappointing for a lot of people that seemed to be here just for them, with the crowd calling out for an encore after they left the stage (but again, CMW doesn’t allow for encores). It was kind of awkward when they came back to strike their gear and the crowd cheered, thinking they were gonna play again.

Dan Mangan was the unsurprising (he was playing at The Indies the next night) surprise guest at the showcase, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. I’ll admit I was only a casual fan of his for a long time, knowing he was beloved by basically everyone with the same taste as me, but never really feeling connected to his albums in the intense way I usually require to really back a musician (Oh Fortune didn’t make my top 10). Turns out, like many bands, I just needed to finally see him live to fully understand what he was all about.

Although some of the guys in his band sort of turned me off for some reason, he was charming and adorable, thanking all the bands, the label, the audience, and just seeming genuinely grateful that everyone was there for him so late. He played probably the longest set I saw during CMW, and unlike The Dears the night before, it didn’t feel too long or sink into boring territory. As the performance went on, he started to have even more fun with it, making it impossible for me to leave despite being exhausted and in physical pain from standing for so many hours at shows every day.

He even seemed slightly drunk, in that way that makes singer songwriter types throw all inhibitions to the floor and do things like this:

Someone’s phone caught a video of the unexpected moment:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcavlu_1FEA[/tube]

The best songs of the night were definitely that performance of “Robots” that had the crowd jubilantly singing along, and what is undeniably the best song off of Oh Fortune, “Rows of Houses” which he took the time to point out is about Gordie – a character from one of my favorite movies of all time, Stand by Me – who was told he would never be able to make a living as a writer (but then of course he did <3).

It seems Dan and I share a similar affinity for darker stories, which was all the more obvious when he brought out Neil from Zeus to join him on a cover of my all time favorite singer-songwriter Elliott Smith‘s “Waltz #2”. It was a weird moment, wherein I realized I was an Elliott Smith fan among Dan Mangan fans. It made me feel old. I never had the chance to experience Elliott’s music live, so hearing an incredibly talented musician (who is obviously very influenced by the man) perform the song to perfection was an unreal moment that had me attempting to hold back tears. From that point on there was no going back to casual fan, he is probably the number one person I’d like to sit down and have a conversation about music/art/life with at this point, and I will never skip out on his shows again.

The new generation of Arts & Crafts stars have been ushered in, and it’s no surprise I’m in love with all of them given the influential bands I’ve mentioned in this post. A new Radiohead, Beatles, Joy Division and Elliott Smith? Yes, yes please. There really is no other label that unquestionably gets it this right, this often.

Lisa