PEAK PERFORMANCE PROJET 2015 BC SHOWCASE #4
October 15, 2015
By Chloe Sjuberg
Photography by Jenn McInnis of Creative Copper Images
Windmills, AKA Cory Myraas from Kelowna, uses loops to great effect to create layered sounds, harmonies and interesting rhythms that evoke a much bigger sound than just one man and his guitar. Windmills is an expressive performer, who bookends his songs with charming, self-deprecating humour. His vocals and melodies are often gentle and moody, although some of the dreamier moments meander on without a strong sense of direction, change or intensity. I was also a little confused by the tendency of his songs to fade out very abruptly, sometimes just as things were getting really good!
My favourite song of the set was Maps. Coupled with dark, deep guitar, Windmills’ voice was at its cleanest and most confident and interesting here. Shame was quick, soft, intimate and thoughtful, with a complex beat, and All Things End, an “anti-love song,” paired delicate strumming with dreamy, sad vocals that put me in mind of a cold, lonely day.
The end of his set drew near and we were wondering when he would give us the Canadian cover song all the artists have to include in their performance. He made a cryptic allusion to Shrek before the iconic intro to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah drifted in – just Windmills and his guitar this time. I wasn’t sure whether his choice was “ballsy,” as one of the hosts put it, or simply obvious, as it seems like THE quintessential Canadian song to cover. However, it’s true that he’s following in some big footsteps, from k.d. lang to Jeff Buckley, and although his was a pretty classic rendition, not playing with rhythm or melody too much, he has a lovely voice for this song, combining his gentleness with his ardent emotion.
In summary, Windmills’ strong emotion is clear in all his songs, but it’s best when paired with his bigger, more deliberate sound, and when he heightens the tension through changes in rhythm and intensity rather than the softer meandering he is susceptible to.
Four-piece Van Damsel, from Kamloops, started by showing us a high-energy rock sound with fast, well-delivered lyrics, and I was moving along with the music right away. Their eminently beltable choruses yelling for change, doing what you want and telling people to suck it reminded me of the best parts of the pop punk I used to listen to as a preteen. Their fast, complex drums and all-out vocals contribute to the sense that they - and us - are having a ton of fun.
Lead singer Sebastien Ste Marie has a big personality. He connects with the crowd figuratively and literally – touching hands with the front row while singing lines like “I want to reach you.”
Van Damsel played a simple, fun, polished cover of Leather Jacket by the Arkells - a less bouncy, harder rock version. In fact, we got not one but two Canadian covers from them – Ste Marie actually went on to don that leather jacket, along with dark glasses, for, you guessed it, the Corey Hart classic Sunglasses at Night. Par for the course for the band, this version was lots of fun, and works well as a shouty pop-punk-rock song compared to the slinky, synthy new wave original.
The second half of their set got a bit calmer, poppier and brighter. While I think I preferred the tone of the earlier songs, these ones still gave us some great melodies and strong beats. I detected shades of Phoenix in this side of their sound.
Their final song, Best of Everything, was a catchy and uplifting crowd-pleaser. Like the rest of their set, I enjoyed it the most when the intensity was highest, but it did get a little long and repetitive.
Van Damsel won me over by backing up their militant songs about change and independence with stating their support for the David Suzuki Foundatin and calling for political and environmental action. Overall, they’re danceable, singable and generally rock-out-able, and they bring a ton of great energy, personality and fun to their audience.
When Victoria native JP Maurice was announced as the “last performance ever” in the Peak Performance Project’s seven-year run, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt emotional! Sad guitar chords came out of the darkness followed by Maurice’s soft, husky but clear voice. All of a sudden, the lights came up as he leapt across the stage and amped the energy right back up. He has a great presence and confidence onstage – this is understandable, since it’s definitely not his first go-round - I believe he’s been in the project five times now (or “17 - no, 18”, as he joked).
Maurice is reminiscent at times of Sam Roberts, with his energetic, let-loose harmonic vocals, and at other times of Band of Horses, with his calm dark intensity that breaks to emotional choruses before going soft again. In short, he sounds great no matter the mood of the song.
Like the other artists, I found some of his songs lost direction, but interesting elements kept popping in to keep me engaged. I was delighted by his rich, rough chords, and the weird and unforgettable line “you wear me as a onesie”. Highlight The Other One had a big, noisy but polished sound.
Maurice’s cover of Innocence by Winnipeg ‘80s rockers Harlequin was joyful, fun and really captured the feel of the original, with a strong classic rock sound.
Then, it was time for me to try not to shriek like a starstruck fangirl, as Maurice invited Evan Konrad AKA Bed of Stars – who put on a killer performance in Showcase #1 a few weeks ago – to the stage. Both Maurice and Konrad have amazing, rich voices which they layered and alternated perfectly. The song was huge, fierce and bold all the way around, but when they backed down to softer tones, they gave the music the perfect amount of breathing space.
The final song of Maurice’s set started out sad, quiet and moody, but became happier and more militant. With a theme of making change into a positive thing, it packed an emotional punch as it alluded to the end of the project (and perhaps even the spectre of the fast-approaching election). Midway through the song came another great guest appearance from Showcase #1’s Mindil Beach! The song was easy to sing along to, and coupled with lyrics about “changing together,” it really instilled a sense of emotion and community in the audience – the perfect way to finish off the night.
The themes of this showcase for me – what I loved and what I wanted to see more of from all three artists – were intensity and direction. This preference may have been in part due to my tiredness that night, though!
With so many great performances, it’s an exciting mystery to see which artists will make the top three! Find out at the final Finale on November 19 at the Commodore Ballroom. It’ll be bittersweet, but we’re beyond pumped.