Canadian Music Festival: Stars and Yukon Blonde

Here is Stars’ “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It”:


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What: Canadian Music Festival (CMF)
Who: Stars and Yukon Blonde
Where: The Danforth Music Hall, 147 Danforth Avenue
Price: $55 for a 6-day wristband (a steal of a deal!)
Bonus: Hipsternation, with everyone clad in toques and scarves

On Wednesday night, I met Hannah in front of The Danforth Music Hall for my first night of the Canadian Music Festival, which has been happening for something crazy like 31 years (Canadian Music Week has, at any rate). The lineup is always impressive, in my experience, and it’s (almost) guaranteed that even the snobbiest of your music-loving friends will find something to enjoy.

Canadian-Music-Fest-2013-620x350

[My sidenote about CMF: this festival’s got a massive, intimidating lineup and it’s impossible to see all the artists you love. In a perfect world, I’d have already mastered both time travel and teleportation so that I could have whirled around the space-time continuum to see both Metric and Zedd on Friday night.

But instead, you’ve got to exercise your powers of decision-making for CMF, and have none of the grass-is-greener mentality when you’re at one venue with a bunch of hipsters and thinking about how you should have ventured to that other venue with that other bunch of hipsters. (It’s kinda like that with relationships too, yeah?)]

I had never been to The Danforth Music Hall, but damn, what an amazing venue. It looks a lot like the formerly abandoned theatre that has been gloriously revamped as the Sackville Music Hall – but without the creepy peeling ceiling and drunken, slanted floors and sagging, lawsuit-waiting-to-happen balcony. I say all of this with the utmost respect and appreciation for that unique spot, of course. Worth a visit if you’re ever passing through Sackville, NB, or you’re in town for Sappyfest!

Comparison:

Sackville Music Hall, courtesy of thephoneticelephant.blogspot.com
Sackville Music Hall, courtesy of thephoneticelephant.blogspot.com

A little bit grander, perhaps:

Danforth Music Hall
Danforth Music Hall

And AND AND: I will be at The Danforth Music Hall again in May to see my favourite Finnish gothic metal band, HIM, for the second time (believe me that it’s hard to pick a favourite Finnish gothic metal band, srsly. They’ve got that shit DOWN.). So I was stoked to get a chance to scope out my spot in the front row and to know that I will be about 3 feet from heavily eyelinered frontman Ville Valo.

Yukon Blonde

Yukon Blonde, courtesy of chippedhip.com
Yukon Blonde, courtesy of chippedhip.com

Admittedly, I don’t know much about this band, but Yukon Blonde has been making waves on the Canadian music scene for a while now. (You can stream their album Tiger Talk for free for a limited time by clicking on those blue words there.) When I saw Yukon Blonde on stage in front of a room filled with toques, scarves, and heavy jackets on what was supposed to be the first day of spring, my eternally Canadian heart leaped a little in my ribcage.

This type of concert is so familiar – nostalgic somehow, even if I have never seen the band. A handful of slim dudes with long, unruly hair, wearing versions of plaid or flannel and jeans, sweating over their instruments under the spotlights: this has been the main event of many, many nights. And yet, Yukon Blonde was fresh, fun, easy to dance to.

And of course, throughout the performance, they were modestly thanking the audience for even bothering to show up to see them play. None of this gratitude rings false, however – perhaps being consistently overwhelmed by gratitude in the face of getting the chance to show off your musical talents is not explicitly Canadian, but damn if our artists don’t do an excellent job of it at most of the performances I have seen over the years.

Here’s Yukon Blonde’s “Choices” for a little sample:

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Stars

stars_band

[Warning: Review may contain gushy effusions.]

Oh, my heart. Stars will have a hold on it forever. For evidence of why they are so awesome, here’s one of my favourite songs ever, “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” a masterful distillation of emotions:


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And they played a beautiful rendition of this song as part of their encore!

I don’t even care that Stars didn’t play ALL of my favourites, since those are mostly on their first albums, Set Yourself On Fire and Heart. And In Our Bedroom After The War is also amazing. And Nightsongs. And The Five Ghosts. (You get it.)

The North, which Stars released in August 2012, sort of slipped under my radar this summer. In listening to the album prior to the concert, I was once again impressed by the emotional spectrum, the lyrical dexterity, the beautifully haunting harmonies of lead singers Amy and Torq, and the overall quality of every album this band produces. And there is no stagnation of talent here – they know what they do well and stick with it, but they continually evolve as musicians. The album can be streamed here.

The concert itself was intimate and energetic. Hannah and I were close to the front and center, and I caught Torq’s every eccentric flail and grimace, Amy’s every teary-eyed smile. Toronto is Stars’ hometown, so they were all pretty emotional and very grateful and overwhelmed to be here. And they played for nearly two hours, which was phenomenal. Other than songs from their more recent albums, they played a few unexpected ones, like “Personal,” but there were also classics like “Ageless Beauty” and “Life Effect” and “One More Night.”

Since they played a second show on Thursday, I’m sure they slipped in different old favourites. And I definitely understand why they’d prefer to be playing their newer songs, but damn if I didn’t just want them to play the whole discography. Don’t know if it’s fair to ask them to play for something like six straight hours, though.

A giant lumberjack-esque stagehand gave out the set lists to waiting fans, a perfect gentleman.

stars setlist

(It says “Toronto SEX” at the top because it was the first of their shows for CMF called SEX & DEATH: Yukon Blonde opening for them on Wednesday for the SEX, and Said the Whale on Thursday for the DEATH.)

Stars is a band of incredible talent, and I love that they remain grateful to their fans for appreciating their work. They are inextricably intertwined with many fond memories of my undergrad years, so it was a nostalgic night for me. I’ve seen them in Halifax and in Montreal before, but to see them play in Toronto, in the city where Stars was born (more or less, anyway) was special. A perfect experience for my first concert at the Canadian Music Fest.

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