Archive for ‘Music Writing’

March 27, 2012

The Manvils will rock — and entertain — you


Mike Manville's infectious songs for The Manvils match his fun personality. (Julia Pelish/

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.

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March 13, 2012

2012 Canadian Music Week Preview: Who to see in Toronto


Blackie and The Rodeo Kings play Massey Hall during Canadian Music Week in Toronto. (Julia Pelish photo)

TORONTO — Canadian Music Week keeps reaching higher and for its 30th year it will ascend as high as it can get. The kick-off celebration to Canada’s largest music event will take place at the CN Tower — 1,815 feet up.

East coast rockers the Joel Plaskett Emergency are the headliner for the March 21 opening show, which will jump start a five-day celebration of music, art, film and, for the first time, comedy.

“Music promoters seem to be promoting comedy more and more. A goal of the festival is that we always want to stay current and we wanted to add Canada’s premier comedy festival to our list,” festival coordinator Zach Gordensky told me.

The event features industry seminars, a digital workshop, the Indie music awards, and musicians from 40 countries. Although there are usually some big names, including Slash this year, the festival isn’t known for attracting major acts. It’s a showcase of new music and that’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t get nearly as much media attention as it deserves. I’ve been attending the festival for the past three years, since returning to Toronto, and it’s one of the most underrated big events in the country. With a $75 wristband, you can get into see dozens of fantastic performances from emerging artists throughout the week. You’ll also get to experience some of Toronto’s best and most intimate music venues, including the Dakota Tavern and the Piston.

With close to 1,000 bands, 800 media members, 500 industry attendees, and between 125,000 and 150,000 fans, Canadian Music Week and its festival lineup have an immense economic impact on Toronto each year.

“There’s been a lot of hard work and people dedicated to building this thing up. It’s pretty impressive for me to work with something with such a long legacy,” says Gordensky, who’s been aboard for a couple of years.

He says he’s excited to see Bear Hands, a Brooklyn band, and Etobicoke’s Cold Specks (aka Al Spx), who was recently on Jools Holland’s show in the UK.

As for the show at the CN Tower, Gordensky says the plans fell into place easily. “The CN Tower is excited to be on board, we’re excited to be doing it,” he says. “It’s the first time we’re putting bands up there. It’s the highest point in Toronto, the highest point in Canada, so we expect it’ll be a really great show.”

In recognition of the 30th anniversary of Canadian Music Week, here’s the list of’s Top 30 Must-See CMW Performances, broken down between Canadian and International acts. For a full schedule, visit the festival’s website.

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August 29, 2011

Tom Morello, City and Colour, Steve Earle highlight 2011 Ottawa Folk Festival

Tom Morello at Ottawa Folk Festival 2011

Tom Morello and his Black Spartacus acoustic guitar put on a show at the Ottawa Folk Fest.

OTTAWA — Tom Morello’s presence at the Ottawa Folk Festival was such a curiosity even he seemed to think he had to explain it.

Morello preceded his set on Saturday night beneath the stars at Hog’s Back Park with a few words about how folk music takes many forms including — he wanted us to believe — hard-driving, guitar-bleating rock. He then sent out to prove his point.

Playing under the name The Nightwatchman, the founding member of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave blistered through his first two songs before settling into a few tunes that were actually folksy. His hit “One Man Revolution” was strikingly appropriate for an event that heralds the activist singers known for their political messages.

As always, though, the highlight of Morello’s show was his version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a searing tour de force from one of the world’s most talented guitarists. Morello, who has been playing the Springsteen song since his days with Rage, absolutely assaults his electric six string during the solo. He manhandles the guitar with his teeth, his palms and those gifted fingers of his that make you wonder if the instrument wasn’t created for him to play that song.

Dallas Green at Ottawa Folk Festival

Dallas Green's City and Colour drew a big crowd at the Ottawa Folk Festival.

While still energetic on stage at age 47, Morello has mellowed to where he can laugh and have fun with the audience. He got everyone — even those who seemed to be planted to their lawn chairs for the full weekend — to jump and sing to his encore, a rendition of the title song from his new album “World Wide Rebel Songs.”

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August 25, 2011

Suzie McNeil, King Sunshine and the Marquee Rose Shine in Blue Mountains

Suzy McNeil in Thornbury

Suzie McNeil won over the crowd in Thornbury. (Julia Pelish photography)

THORNBURY, ONTARIO — Cottage country calls all Torontonians — including, it turns out, some of the city’s most listenable musicians. During the recent Peak to Shore Music Festival, headlined by Sarah Harmer, I caught stellar performances from three acts at Blue Mountain Village and in the wonderfully inviting little town of Thornbury.

Suzie McNeil It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since McNeil appeared on “Rock Star: INXS,” wowing judge Dave Navarro with her voice, her sweetness and other charms. McNeil didn’t skyrocket to superstardom, but she has earned four top 10 hits in Canada since 2007 and headlined on stage in the theatre production of “We Will Rock You.” During the Peak to Shore Festival, McNeil performed two shows in Thornbury on August 13, a day when she had major car trouble and “merch” issues (CDs she’d hoped to sell never made it up from Toronto). She related those stories and woes of “getting dumped” to the audiences while beaming and laughing and seeming to be genuinely enjoying her time on stage. You couldn’t help but like someone so easygoing and natural — and talented. McNeil has total command of her pitch-perfect voice and she demonstrated it first on Bruce Street in Thornbury and later at Bridges, a tavern with a sprawling lawn that made for an enchanting setting for a show. Although she’s put out three albums, McNeil isn’t above singing cover songs. In fact, about half of her set were popular hits most listeners would know — from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” (which McNeil actually made likeable) to Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Queen classic that the Mississauga singer performed on the reality-TV show that made her a star in 2005. Her most recent single, “Merry Go Round,” is a tuneful, melodious, easy-to-listen-to song — like most everything else she puts out.

King Sunshine If you didn’t know better you’d think this gang of nine from Toronto came straight out of New Orleans. They’ve got a horn section, a funky beat and a lead singer with one big voice. Their song “At the Party,” which is five years old now, sounds as fresh as anything out there. During their show in the middle of a 30 Celsius-degree afternoon, they had feet tapping and more than a few people shaking when the horn section descended the stage to liven things up like a veteran Dixieland troupe. This is a fun group that makes sure everyone has a blast. Plus, Maya Killtron’s voice dazzles.

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July 27, 2011

Alex Cuba happy to be Canada’s Spanish music star

Alex Cuba

Alex Cuba says he doesn't use any special hair-care products to get his trademark look. "Just the right shampoo, a blow dryer and my pick." (Copyright photo from Julia Pelish)

OTTAWA — Alex Cuba’s father told him he couldn’t be a singer. This most unlikely of Canadian music stars not only proved him wrong, he’s become a globally celebrated artist in the past two years — even though you’re not likely to hear his songs on 102.7 the Edge or other well-known radio stations in Toronto.

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July 21, 2011

History of Ottawa Bluesfest should help it overcome stage collapse

Ottawa Bluesfest founder Mark Monahan

A day before the stage collapse, Ottawa Bluesfest founder Mark Monahan and his Caddy were aglow. (Copyright photo by Julia Pelish Photography)

OTTAWA — Nearly 24 hours before the nightmarish destruction of the main stage at his festival, Ottawa Bluesfest founder Mark Monahan sat outside a trailer that was away from the crowd and talked about the dream that had come true. It started nearly two decades ago on a hunch and has turned into a multi-million-dollar, non-profit celebration of music. In the aftermath of what’s been called a freakish accident that reportedly sent four people to the hospital, talk of what Monahan has accomplished has to be tempered with somber acknowledgement of the incident on Sunday night that brought a premature end to what looks like another record year of attendance and revenue for the festival.

Still, despite the storm and near 100-kilometre winds that forced Cheap Trick away from the stage, the Ottawa Bluesfest remains one of the most noteworthy music events in North America. It started when Monahan was running the Penguin, a music club in the nation’s capital that booked a range of artists, including jazz acts who collectively would garner large numbers at festivals in Montreal and Vancouver but individually — without a massive marketing effort — didn’t bring in crowds.

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July 16, 2011

Ottawa Bluesfest 2011: Blue Rodeo plays, we sing, the universe is all right

Jim Cuddy - Blue Rodeo - Ottawa Bluesfest 2011

Jim Cuddy belts out "5 Days in May" during Blue Rodeo's show at the Ottawa Bluesfest on Friday night. (Julia Pelish photo)

OTTAWA — About 11 years ago, around 80 people crammed into the Mercury Lounge, one of New York’s smallest and most beloved clubs, to listen to this country-blues band from Canada with a psychedelic side and Wilco-esque jam panache. They rocked, we sang and it all made the little spot in the East Village a little happier that night. The show went unnoticed in the rest of Manhattan, and elsewhere too, making the words at the merchandise kiosk resonate with those of us who did attend. On mugs and bumper stickers was the slogan: “In a just world, Blue Rodeo would be as popular as toast.”

On Friday night, beneath a nearly full moon, the world and universe as those in Ottawa knew it seemed to be in perfect order. A hockey arena-sized crowd gathered on the grounds of the 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest at LeBreton Flats, behind the Canadian War Museum, for what had to be the largest and most enthusiastic audience Blue Rodeo has played in front of in recent memory. The band was more than up for the occasion, delivering an energetic show on a steamy night that also featured East Coast rapper Classified. Many of his younger fans not only stuck around for the old-timers from Blue Rodeo, they sang along to the band’s classics — including the too-sensitive-for-the-frat-house “After the Rain” — from start to finish.

It is one of the two best shows I’ve seen from Blue Rodeo (and you’re talking double digits; I have enough ticket stubs for each finger and toe, from everywhere from the deceased Bottom Line in Greenwich Village to the Orpheum in Vancouver); the other top show from them was that night at the Mercury Lounge, when then-keyboardist James Gray tore it up with some heavy-duty hammering of the keys.

At the 17th annual Bluesfest, Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and crew opened with “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.” They followed with “Five Days in May” as the setlist featured most of their greatest hits — although “Diamond Mine” and “Rose-Coloured Glasses” still don’t make it into the show often enough. Wayne Petti from Cuff the Duke, who’s practically a member of Blue Rodeo, he’s been on stage so often with them, helped out on vocals and guitars, and talented Colin Cripps, Kathleen Edwards’ husband, joined on guitar for the full show. (Edwards didn’t show up, though.)

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July 12, 2011

U2 Concert Review in Toronto: A Beautiful Day and Night

Maybe God does listen to Bono.

On a night where rain was such a certainty the restaurant I dined at prior to Monday’s show wouldn’t open its patio because of the dire forecast, the panels of the ’Dome stayed curled back, allowing the selected songs from U2’s 30-something-year-old catalogue to lift off into the Toronto night.

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