The East Coast Music Awards were recently held in Charlottetown and I attended two nights of performances at my regular watering hole. Each night provided a variety of bands and singers and a variety of successes and failures. The most egregious trend that I witnessed would best be classified as "weepy-country-tinged-mope-folk". Four simple chords and generic lyrics about heartache and nature. No discernible personality and the most adequate of musicians...just awful. The aural equivalent of strained carrot baby food. It requires nothing of the listener and apparently almost nothing of the writer/performer. There were enthusiastic supporters for these acts and I can only assume that, much like trained seals, they would clap for anything...this metaphor fails ultimately, because the seals are rewarded for their behaviour. There was no such reward for these hapless fuckers, unless bland whining stimulates a portion of the idiot brain that I don't posses, however unlikely that idea seems. Adding insult to injury, these performers (I'm being very generous by using that term) were absolutely listless...standing on the stage, head slightly tilted downward, eyes closed in an infuriating pose of "sensitivity". Maybe I'm alone in this opinion, but, failed relationships don't make me want to stand in front of people wearing my regrets like a cheap costume. I'd much rather hear someone screaming, "You hurt me and that makes me angry, you fucking bitch/bastard." Hell, it doesn't even have to be screamed for that matter, I'd settle for the implication of anger...or any emotion at all other than the affectation of sleep-inducing sadness.
I asked a few people whose opinions I trust and enjoy what they thought of this perplexing trend. Most agreed that the music was at best mediocre and at worst almost insulting in its lack of originality. Perhaps I should have asked a few complete strangers, so as not to entirely skew the feedback, but, I didn't.
Now for the good acts. First, Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case : a band from Newfoundland that grabbed my attention and held it with good humour and the sheer joy of a fun performance. I would need to employ many hyphens to adequately describe their sound, but, I'll go with "Vaudeville-flavoured-folk-pop". The songs had a wonderful blend of familiar and unpredictable, with creative uses of instruments like accordion, trombone, kazoo and banjo along with the more conventional guitar, bass, drum setup. It was the band's first performance at the bar and speaking with a couple of them after their set, they were clearly very happy with the enthusiasm they received. I bought their first CD, 'Honey for Bees' and I look forward to their next trip to the island. My second night out brought me the revelatory experience of the newly expanded Dan Currie Band. A longtime musical staple of the Charlottetown music scene, Currie has worked in several notable groups including Eyes for Telescopes and Double-Ought Buckshot. With brother Nick on bass and Jonny King on drums, this trio honed a very good blend of 70's power boogie (a la The Faces) with more traditional country and bluegrass. Adding vocalist Belinda Doyle and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Drea MacDonald expanded the sound and scope of the band's original songs into a glorious new realm. Three part harmonies and the second guitar parts allowed this band to fully explore the dynamic possibilities of Currie's well-crafted musings about love, spirituality and the temptations of everyday life. I was instantly reminded of the legendary Stones track, 'Gimme Shelter'...and whether quietly rounding out a simply strummed ballad or belting a chorus with the force of a small tornado, this reinvigorated group looks to have a well earned place amongst the island's "must see" acts.
Unfortunately (and yet predictably), both nights were somewhat shortened by conspicuous lager consumption, which led me to miss certain acts that I was looking forward to hearing...( that seems to be an odd phrase in terms of sensory perception). Haunted Hearts, John Connolly and the Sidewalks are all tried and tested live acts with great reputations for a good reason. All three acts have the ability to lift a venue up on their shoulders with great songs and engaging performances. When I first moved to the island in the late 90's, I carried my Toronto prejudices with me. I was accustomed to a music scene that was very large and very competitive, with an almost absurdly territorial sense. This may not be an accurate memory, but, it's what I remember. PEI seemed incredibly small and provincial (in a very pejorative sense). What I soon came to learn was just how vibrant and varied this island's musical scene could be. Wildly disparate groups would share the stages of the relatively few available venues and there was never any sense of "this band shouldn't be here", unless they were lousy, (Microphones, I'm looking at you...). My appreciation for the breadth and scope of musical options has only increased as I live here. I am very fortunate to have a large circle of musical friends and my nights out on the town are more often than not enhanced by the many fine groups that have sprung up on my island. The ECMA's very handily reaffirmed one of my most cherished philosophies: "Always be ready to be surprised." It sounds like a contradiction, but, it isn't. That is to say...it ain't.