Monday, August 28th, 2006
So this past weekend was the big Indie Unlimited to-do at Harbourfront, an excellent festival with a bad name. It seemed Mother Nature is more a classic rock kinda broad because the weather was far from co-operative for the Summer send-off, raining Friday, threatening all day Saturday and a mix of the two Sunday. Granted, the main Harbourfront stage is well-protected from the elements but grey skies don’t really encourage trips to the waterfront. I made the trek down Saturday expecting to stick around through the whole afternoon and evening but ended up making it two separate trips and that turned out to be a logical thing to do as the contrast between the daytime performers and the evening ones was, if you’ll pardon the pun, day and night.
Starting things off were Great Lake Swimmers, who got some blog love last week and are currently a featured Torontoist interview. There’s something quintessentially Canadian about Tony Dekker and his band, and they were a perfect way to start the afternoon. Perfectly accompanied on backing vocals and harmonica by Serena Ryder, especially on an a capella version of Neil Young’s “Love Is A Rose”, Dekker and his crew were spellbinding for 45 minutes and even managed to lure the sun out for a short while with their delicate, graceful folk songs. Simply lovely.
Star gone solo Amy Millan was up next and given that I hadn’t heard Honey From The Tombs yet, nor seen her perform solo since that album was released, this was my first real opportunity to consider her country holiday. Amy’s voice has a light, natural twang that works great in Stars but is a bit too breezy for country – similarly, I found her material to be pleasant but slight. Her strengths are in pop music and those strengths don’t necessarily translate to creating real country music where hurt and heartache are essential to providing real gravitas. But still, for soundtracking a gentle afternoon on the water, she and her band sounded fine. Her set was very well-received from the Arts & Crafts fan contingent who cheered everything she did, in particular the single Stars tune in the set, “Look Up”, which also stood out as the best song of her afternoon.
The matinee portion of the day was very traditional and pretty, a miniature Canada Day of sorts. Adding to this was the presence of the Six String Nation guitar, a beautiful acoustic crafted from over 60 culturally important pieces of Canadiana (Pierre Trudeau’s canoe paddle. Paul Henderson’s hockey stick from 1972). Both Tony and Amy played a song on the guitar, joining a long line of Canadian artists who’ve done so. It was very cool. But if the daytime was Canada Day, then the evening was the Pride Parade.
Fritz Helder & The Phantoms? Complete unknown to me before Saturday night, though I had been advised last week that they were worth showing up early for. And man, were they ever. Sporting black baseball caps studded with their stage names and pantomime whiteface, they started as trenchcoat-clad robots and quickly stripped down to sweaty sexpots over the course of four or five songs. Coming across like Prince fronting an electro-funky Kraftwerk, Fritz Helder and his Phantoms put on an audacious, sexy and pelvic-thrusting show that was one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in ages. It also made me feel good to know that they were doing so at a venue funded by my tax dollars. Awesomeness.
I found it interesting that an act like Fritz Helder was on before The Hidden Cameras, considering that the latter built their reputation on similarly over the top and memorable live performances. How would the Cameras follow up? Somewhat surprisingly, with a polished, mature and PG-rated – almost wholesome – show. Equally excellent but extremely different. Flanked on one side by a string section and an arsenal of keyboards and glockenspiels on the other, Joel Gibb and his band of merry Cameras – a core band of around 11 players but exanding to 18 or so at points – celebrated the release of their new album AWOO this past Tuesday by playing the whole thing to the smallish (for a free Harbourfront show) but tremendously enthused hometown crowd. I thought they started out somewhat restrained but certainly grew increasingly lively as the night progressed, culminating in the rousing encore-closer of “Golden Streams”. What better place than the waterfront for some watersports?
But for the most part the band seems to have shed the “gay church folk music” descriptor that followed them around for most of their existance – it’s no longer so easy to describe them in four words. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the themes on the new record are much broader and universal than perhaps they once were. But what hasn’t changed is the sheer joy and exuberance of the Cameras live. While there was no go-go dancer this time (an audience heckler was invited onstage to fill the wrestling mask and diaper – he declined), there was a designated dancer who happily pranced around stage most of the night in just his boxers. No, it wasn’t the same but probably less confusing for the passers-by.
Cheers to the Indie Unlimited organizers for assembling a top-notch, eclectic bill. I was only there for one day, and not even the whole day, and was wholly impressed with what I saw. From what I heard, the performers were consistently good over all three days. This town needs more free shows of this scale and stature, so keep it coming next year. Just do something about that name…
Lots and lots of photos from the show. Even though the lighting was erratic for the Cameras set and I had to shoot most of it from the audience, I still got some choice ones. All the others I got to spend the duration of the set in the pit. Be sure to check out the Fritz Helder pics, they communicate the experience far better than words do. The photo sets are split into two, one for the day and one for the night. Makes more sense thematically and keeps them (more) manageable.
Photos: Amy Millan, Great Lake Swimmers @ Harbourfront Centre – August 26, 2006
Photos: The Hidden Cameras, Fritz Helder & The Phantoms @ Harbourfront Centre – August 26, 2006
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Bodies And Minds”
MP3: Amy Millan – “Skinny Boy” (ZIP)
MP3: The Hidden Cameras – “AWOO”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “To Leave It Behind”
Video: Amy Millan – “Baby I” (MOV)
Video: The Hidden Cameras – “Awoo” (MOV)
MySpace: Great Lake Swimmers
MySpace: Amy Millan
MySpace: Fritz Helder & The Phantoms
MySpace: The Hidden Cameras
More Toronto/Can-rock love tomorrow. But for now, I leave you with an important dispatch from the Department of Michael Bay Is Awful: Michael Bay’s Megatron.