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Day Three: Halifax the Music Week menace 

“A menacing snowstorm” (TM Weather Network) kicked the shit out of Toronto yesterday, reminding me again why I don’t like to travel to central Canada in winter (or summer, now that I think of it). As I trudged up to the Rivoli, tripping over streetcar tracks and climbing tiny curbside mountains, I thought about all the Halifax bands that drove up here, building tours through Quebec City and Peterborough to make it worth it, and I had to wonder if it was.

The packed club told me yes. (PS What is it with every venue in Toronto existing at the back of a restaurant or on top of another venue or at the end of a series of hallways? Why can’t you just walk in the door and be there?) Saturday was given completely over to Music Nova Scotia, who held a reception beforehand with performances by Rebekah Higgs, Don Brownrigg and others.

I didn’t make it until the final act, but I’m glad I snuck in there. David Myles has been down in Tennessee and the surrounding area for a couple weeks, playing shows in Nashville and Memphis and whatnot. After his set – during which he twice politely chastised the crowd, drunk on oysters, for not participating in singalongs – I grabbed him to say hello and he said this: “It’s done.” It being his new album. More on this in the coming months.

A quick intermission ensued while the venue switched over from private to public. First up was Brett Ryan, backed by eight Halifax vets, performing songs from his recent release St. Cecilia Soul. “This is Broken Social Scene in 20 years,” I quipped to my friend and host, Mike Landry (yes Coast Mike Landry).

Then Jenn Grant, Dog Day and i see rowboats -- someone lock this lineup down at home please – played three of the most killer sets I have ever seen from any of them, and they are all bands I’ve seen a lot.

Jenn flounced onstage in a summer dress and winter boots fresh off an incredible win at the Indies award show an hour earlier:

The Indies will also present the 2008 Galaxie Rising Stars Award of the CBC. As opposed to the fan-voted Indie Awards, this honour is the choice of the nation’s music critics. Music journalists from print, TV, radio and online media will be submitting their top 10 lists of Canadian independent releases of 2007. Sales and airplay are irrelevant for this reward, while artistic merit is the true deciding factor on who will be the winner.

Jenn received this award – which comes with three grand (fun fact: In-Flight Safety received this a couple North by Northeasts ago) – over homies Wintersleep and Joel Plaskett, but even more impressively, she was up against established critic-wank faves like The Besnard Lakes, Tegan and Sara, The Weakerthans, Stars and The New Pornographers.

Though the Night Painters played essentially the same set as Thursday’s show and Jenn was losing her voice, the crowd was more receptive than the previous audience (which was pretty sweet on the show to begin with) and the band more buoyant and fun. There was also more dollar store-related audience participation via egg shakers Jenn had made that afternoon. There was lots of tiny pasta on the floor afterward.

Standing at the front, I hadn’t been paying attention to the rest of the room, but then I turned around and into a sea of people. The place was filled to capacity, in a menacing snowstorm.

Dog Day also played a set similar to its Horseshoe gig on Thursday, but I’ve never seen them have so much fun onstage. A small, giddy smile began to creep across Seth Smith’s face early on and stayed for the duration. The Halifax contingent in the crowd went crazy when he introduced “Use Your Powers” from their first EP. Superfantastic Steph D’Entremont skipped past me, pointing at her heart and then to the band.

And i see rowboats...this band has been monumental to me since the first time I saw it last May at Gus’ Pub. Its underappreciated acoustic set, at this year’s In the Dead of Winter, marred by sound problems and a confused crowd, had become the reigning highlight for me, but this set is at the top now. Starting almost half an hour late due to technical problems, I worried they wouldn’t be allowed to perform their whole set, but luckily common sense on the part of those in power won out. Violinist/vocalist Luke Fisher was on fire, summoning more violin, more cello, more vocals from the sound guy – who the band had graciously applauded earlier once all of their problems got sorted – as he absolutely reveled in his band’s tight, epic set. Singer/guitarist Will Robinson, normally a stoic sort, smiled widely for the last couple songs while drummer Darcy Fraser narrowly avoiding giving himself whiplash.

A rousing, monster “In Cars” was the last song I heard at Canadian Music Week, an apt choice considering the long road home.


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