Live Review

Canadian Blast Presents…, The Barbican, London

A wonderful showcase of Canadian music.

It’s Sunday 2nd July and yesterday was Canada Day. Tonight The Barbican is set upon by a host of Canadians who continue to celebrate their countries’ day throughout the weekend, to be exact it is set upon by a host of Canadian musicians, some of the best currently on offer. The show has been organized by Canadian Blast, and is a celebration of contemporary Canadian sound and vision. It’s been a full day affair which began with various artists performing on a free stage in the Barbican foyer. The artists playing were Ryan Driver, Sandro Perri, Mantler and Linda Mcrae as well as a special screening of Chilly Gonzales’ film, Ivory Tower.

It’s 7:30 now and doors to the grand, tiered seated, main hall with its 3000 capacity are open for the main event. A black grand piano stands at the front of the stage with a whole host of amplifiers, synths and other musical gadgetry sitting dormant behind it, this is because the first artist is playing solo and that artist is the one and only Chilly Gonzales. If you’re not aware of Chilly Gonzales’ style of music he’s an eccentric electro-pop pioneer, singer songwriter and producer, however tonight he plays a rare Piano Talks set which comprises 30 minutes of piano perfection in support of the screening of his film earlier in the day. Chilly walks on stage in his usual attire of slippers and a bathrobe crossed with a smokers jacket. What the audience witness over the next thirty minutes is immensely quick hands to the point where all you can see is a blur, the deftest touch followed by outright smashing on the keys and even at one point playing a beautiful piece of music on the Steinway with his head underneath it. Chilly has clearly enjoyed himself through this short but very sweet performance and so has the audience.

Next up is folk musician Woodpigeon who writes songs with charm, melancholy vibes twinned with orchestral arrangements all supported by his soft gravelly vocals and Bon Iver-esque look. To help him create these orchestral arrangements he is joined on stage by the band Eagle Owl. Along with Mark Hamilton, aka Woodpigeon, the band are an eight piece with double bass, guitar, mandolin, squeeze box to name but a few. Woodpigeon’s records are so beautiful that you would feel compelled to expect a lot from this performance, especially for those who had witnessed his enchanting set at End Of The Road festival last year with the same band. But unfortunately the set is a little underwhelming tonight, their is little stage presence, almost as if the band are just going through the motions, and nothing special pulled out of the hat considering the size of the show. It is through this that Woodpigeon’s songs are not given the justice they deserve but thereagain maybe the audience are just expecting too much.

In stark contrast is the next performer, folk singer songwriter Devon Sproule and her band the Unmarked Animals which includes Ryan Driver and Mantler, who both performed at the Free Stage earlier in the day as well as Sandro Perri who produced Sproule’s latest record. The band is again large in numbers with eight members on and off, however you feel that they all have their place and each enhance the performance. Straight away there is much more energy, Sproule and her band making room for their own “boogie space” after the first song. All the songs have been enhanced upon for the live performance which is something that possibly couldn’t be said for some of the other performers so far tonight, with standout tracks being ‘Julie’ and the title track from the new record ‘I Love You, Go Easy’. The fact that the band clearly came onto the stage with the mindset of ‘lets have some fun’, certainly rubbed off on the audience and the performance is all the better for it.

Finally comes the headline act, The Hidden Cameras, a band whose sound is often compared to that of Belle and Sebastian with hints of REM in their earlier attempts. Their set starts with a rather awkward experience, the guitar being out of tune and Joel Gibb having to play the first track on the acoustic guitar with a broken strap leaning it on his leg throughout. The band pick up the energy in the second song, with a chorus of strings coming from the two violins and cello whilst adopting a hunting style stance on stage with band members attacking and retreating from each other as Gibb keeps the performance ticking over. This is working for the next couple of tracks but the more it goes on, the more tiresome it becomes, much like their set really. Although a high quality polished performance it would be best described as middle of the road and at worst dull, there are a couple of foot tapping moments but nothing more than that. For the last song of their set and the night Chilly Gonzales and Woodpigeon join the band on stage which ends the set and the night on a high.

All in all tonight has been a wonderful showcase of Canadian music, with some possibly underperforming but others bringing true brilliance to their performances with wit and flare all set in the wonderful arena that is The Barbican. You’d be hard pushed to find a better way to round off a fun filled Canadian weekend. If you get a chance to see any of these artists perform you should grab it with both hands, a couple didn’t live up to their hype but don’t let that put you off because on their night they can all produce something truly special.

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