Diners at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen in Liberty Village may not realize the likeable guy who greets them is also one heck of a rock ’n roll front man. No exaggeration. Mikey Manville is 6-feet-2 of combustible energy and charm. Playing Saturday night at a secret show for Canadian Music Fest, Manville bounded and danced and charged into the crowd, wailing his guitar, and then rushed back to the microphone in a frenetic display of showmanship that you’d expect to see on stage at the El Mocambo and not the basement of a duplex in the Queen West neighbourhood.
Manville relocated from Vancouver about six months ago and when he’s not working as a host at one of Toronto’s best restaurants, he’s building an impressive catalogue of alternative rock tunes, some of which he and his band, The Manvils, showcased at that impromptu after party celebrating the 30th anniversary of Canada’s largest music festival.
In a room that proved it can hold as many as 50 people (uncomfortably — “Uh, where’s the fire exit?”), Manville jammed with drummer Jay Koenderman, who made the move with him from out west, and new bassist Jason Skiendziel, who learned the band’s catalogue in a matter of a few hours in the days before Saturday’s 30-minute performance. Songs “Turpentine” and “Hot Volcano Like” have great rock hooks while the newly written “Heart of the Hide,” about the theft of Manville’s baseball glove in Vancouver, shows his diverse songwriting abilities.
“Mike’s a great front man,” Koenderman says. “He really gets the crowd going. It’s fun to watch from back there while I’m drumming.”
A few years ago, The Manvils were one of Vancouver’s hottest new bands, with a song featured on a beer commercial that aired during the Beijing Olympics and a breakthrough album on the Sandbag Records label. The move east to Canada’s biggest city gets them in front of larger audiences with more influential industry types.
It also gives Manville more opportunities to explore his songwriting.
“We have three EPs from our three favourite cities,” says Manville, whose 2007 solo album featured Bob Egan of Blue Rodeo. “Vancouver, Chicago and Toronto. Each place is distinct and the records will be unique on their own because of that, I think.”
The Manvils’ “Black Tornado” was recorded in Vancouver and released in October. The next two EPs will follow in the coming months while the band members continue to build a base in their new city.
The band’s lanky guitar player and leader, whose real name is Muxacb (or Michael) Iwanyshyn, took on the Mikey Manville moniker while working as a member of a film crew for a documentary called “Great Canadian Parks” more than 13 years ago.
“A producer kept calling me Mikey Manville, because we were in Mannville, Alberta, doing a shoot and when I got back to Vancouver I had my first music gig and when they asked me what my name was, I said Mikey Manville, and it stuck. I did spell it wrong, though,” Manville points out, noting the city has a double-n in its name.
Manville, who is of Ukrainian descent, is excited to be in the Big Smoke, shouting happily at the end of Saturday’s set: “The Manvils are from Toronto now and we’re here to stay!”
Joining the Manvils at the house party were Calgary rock ’n blues outfit Zoo Lion, Edmonton-based rockers Tupelo Honey, and the marvellously talented and entertaining Sherman Downey & the Silver Lining of St. John’s. At one point near 2:30 am and during Tupelo Honey’s set, the room was so packed, the staircase leading up to the main floor was filled with two people per rung.
How do you get four top-notch bands to play in your basement while wall-to-wall humanity fills it?
The party’s host, whose name isn’t being used for obvious reasons, shrugged and contritely said, “I don’t know. I guess I just have a reputation for throwing good parties.”
His rep’s only going to grow after this one — if you know who he is.