BY JAMES FW THOMPSON
My weekend ended up being a rather busy one, so I actually did not make it out to very many ECMA events. However, the few random shows that I did make it out to were quite good. So good, in fact, that I felt that the performers and events deserved special praise. This special praise is going to come in the form of the Random Awards of Achievement (or “The Randys”). Today I have ten Randys to give out.
The Improv Award goes to Stephen Klein (NSCC ECMA Showcase – Friday night, Days Inn). Throughout his set, Klein kept mentioning that he was unprepared, that the band he was playing with had never played with him before, etc. However, with his fiddle work, I never would have noticed. Yes, there were a few times that the four of them on stage might not have been playing the same thing, but it still sounded great. He mashed songs together very fluidly, seemingly off the top of his head, to make some very nice tunes. At the end of his set he exclaimed “Oh wait – I DO have a set list!” (pulls set list out of his pocket and reads it) “Oh man, I was way off!” For his improvisational spirit on stage, this Randy goes to Stephen Klein.
The Enthusiasm Award goes to D.J. Vaters of And Here We Go (The Giant TOO LOUD Stage – Saturday Evening, Civic Center). Despite the somewhat small crowd at the beginning of the show, And Here We Go opened it up with full force and played a great set (one of the best I’ve seen them play, actually). Vaters went just a bit above and beyond though. At the end of each song, he would practically jump up from his drum kit, fist pumping and yell “YEAH!” as if he was egging on a full stadium.
The Sandwich Award goes to Warm Roast Beef, Smoked Chili Mayo & Aged Cheddar on Ciabatta (Flavor). Flavor had the brilliant idea to extend their hours well over their normal business hours, and from what I saw it paid off quite well (it was packed when I went in, with a line of customers patiently waiting). The sandwich I got was a very filling one—good for an evening out at the ECMA events—but still light enough to not weigh you down while you rock out. Plus, it is just plain tasty.
The Loud-Folk Award goes to Raccoon Bandit (The Giant TOO LOUD Stage – Saturday Evening, Civic Center). This was a rock show – plain and simple. Loud bands playing loud music. So, I was a bit surprised when Raccoon Bandit started their set with some twangy acoustic guitar and subdued drums (with some cool solos and riffs to boot). Essentially, a folk band (in fact, that’s how they themselves describe their band on their website). Despite that, they totally held their own and were a really nice part of the show.
The Stand-Up Comedy Award goes to Static In Action (The Giant TOO LOUD Stage – Saturday Evening, Civic Center). Alicia Penney admitted in their set that the band was just a front to showcase their stand-up routine, and I’d fully believe it. Sure, it needs work, but between the charged, anthem-esque rock songs, Doyle and Penney would take jabs at one another, at the songs, at the band, and whatever else seemed worthy to rib. Was it pre-planned? Who’s to say? And, if you still don’t take my word for it, I have a joke for you (directly from their set) “Why wouldn’t the oyster give up its pearl? Because it was shellfish!” Brilliant. Good tunes too.
The Beverage Award goes to hot chocolate (Wentworth Perk). I walked over to the venue, and while it was just a five minute walk, by the time I got there I was pretty chilled. This hot chocolate warmed me fully. After a giant mug of chocolatey brew—with with whipped cream and cocoa powder and the addition of a fresh gingerbread man—I was ready to call it a day.
The Best Sound Award goes to Mike Gabriel (East Coast Caffeinated – Saturday afternoon, Wentworth Perk). The nicest sound to come out of this weekend, for me, was the bass chords made my Mike Gabriel at Wentworth Perk. Just the right amount of distortion and just the right volume. His set was that of a singer-songwriter, but with electric bass instead of the typical acoustic guitar. It might be the fact that the sound instantly reminded me of Gabriel’s former band (Everyone In Cars), but it did the trick.
The Charming Banter Award goes to Danny MacNeil (NSCC ECMA Showcase – Friday night, Days Inn). MacNeil has a great way of drawing his audience in through his music, and this showcase was no exception. He won them over instantly with his almost frantic chords and very distinct voice. But this award is for banter. I will explain that this show was in a bar, and bar banter tends to have a lot to do with drinking. One of the things that Danny mentioned was how much he had been drinking that day, before remembering that his parents were in the audience. While legally there is no problem with that, it seemed to make him blush, and made the audience smile. He had several stories throughout that were in a similar vein, and all ended with him coming across as very innocent.
The Fun Set Award goes to Bette and Wallet (East Coast Caffeinated – Saturday afternoon, Wentworth Perk). There were more smiles in the room for this set than I can count. And with good reason. The duo of Bette and Wallet—beyond being incredibly talented musicians playing guitar, banjo, accordion, tambourine, bass, singing in both English and French AND some kind of foot-drum that I sadly couldn’t see where from where I was sitting—was very friendly. Downright cute, even. Half of their songs were sing-along style numbers (if you ever get the chance to partake in “Aliens are Nice” I highly suggest you do so – a more fun song you will not hear). They taught the crowd French vocabulary and told delightful stories to go with each song. Their final song was about a man being trampled to death, and they even made that sound fun (although, that might have had to do with the fact that they described him as “having turned dead”). If you get the chance to see Bette and Wallet in the future, do it!
The Venue Award goes to Wentworth Perk. True, I only actually hit three venues for the whole of the ECMAs, but I can’t imagine a better environment for the artists they had. First of all, it was one of the most well-supplied coffee houses I have ever been too. Second, it was a really casual atmosphere. The performers would wander up, play their wonderful sets with just a simple little PA, chat with the audience a bit, and just enjoy themselves. There was the occasional screw up, but that just went with the casualness. I think that’s what really got me – the atmosphere. Thursday to Sunday, they had a set each day of some of the best artists the east coast has to offer, and they all took it in stride. Just a coffee house. An incredibly packed coffee house. I attended two shows – one on Thursday, one on Saturday – and both had standing room only. I already mentioned the hot chocolate, which could give most other venues a run for their money on its own, and I already mentioned some of the great acts that played there, so you can see what this place had going for it this weekend. Considering Wentworth Perk only opened this past fall, I’d say they really delivered for these ECMAs.
And that’s all for these Randy Awards. I’ll be back with more at some other random time, I suppose.