BreakOut West – an annual celebration of the finest Western Canadian musical talent – is being held this weekend in Regina. There are dozens of performers playing at eleven different venues throughout the city over the course of two sonically pleasing days. I saw five bands on Friday night and not a single one let me down, here’s a recap of my evening.
THE MAGNETIC NORTH
My first show of the night was at The Exchange, one of my favorite venues in all of the Queen City. Like the majority of the bands on the lineup I had never heard of The Magnetic North before but they put on a good set to ease me into the night; I started softly swaying instead of going into a full-on dance party mode. The band seems to lead the way with sounds from their keyboardist, with the other band members providing a little bit of an extra oomph to underscore the emotions of each song. Although most of their songs felt a little truncated to me, one standout tune included a couple of the band members blowing into a plastic tub with a metal piece on the end (I have no idea what its technical name is) to produce something that I can only describe as sounding like a creaking old gate. It was very atmospheric and made me feel like I was entering the graveyard of my nightmares – but I liked it.
I stepped next door to The Club for my second show of the night. The Club is attached to The Exchange and is smaller and more intimate – the perfect setting for a singer like Belle Plaine to captivate an audience. She got on stage and promptly introduced a song about heartbreak. “I’m a heartbreaker, see,” she said. After watching her strum her acoustic guitar and sing songs that came straight from her heart for three quarters of an hour I believed it. She played something off her upcoming album (described as a “groove ‘til ya puke” song) but the highlight of the show for me was when she set down her guitar, closed her eyes, grasped the microphone with one hand and snapped her fingers with her other while crooning a smooth, jazzy tune.
Calgary’s Sidney York consists of three equally lovely and talented ladies who energized the entire crowd at McNally’s. I got into the liveliness of their show; some of the lyrics may have been a little simple and flirty, like they were inspired by a high school student’s diary, but that didn’t really matter. Their use of a ukulele, French horn and oboe would’ve been enough to set them apart but having two of the three leads jump into the crowd to get everyone moving and clapping was a unique moment. One of their songs in particular reminded me a bit of Mother Mother, another very entertaining Canadian group. Sidney York’s backing band was sort of hidden behind the ladies but they more than handled their own – it was even pointed out to me that “homey is killing it on the guitar” at one point.
The Artesian on 13th is a very distinctive setting for any type of event and seeing any band there is always a pleasure, but wandering into the JP Hoe performance was the greatest gift of the evening to me. I was instantly hooked by their sound, which included a cellist and a violinist each with sheet music in front of them. I was sucked right into their indie pop sound and already had them pegged as one of the weekend highlights when they broke into an amazing cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police”. This moment – so unexpected and so wonderful – has to be one of the best live moments I’ve experienced all year, let alone this weekend. Some guy yelled, “That was so good!” after it ended, vocalizing the thoughts of every single person in attendance.
I stuck around the Artesian to catch my final show of the night, a four-piece band from Vancouver called Rococode. I’ve heard their name before and have always meant to check them out in the past but after seeing them live I was kicking myself for not getting into them sooner. Every band member was solid and they all performed incredibly well with each other – they even did a mid-song transition where one of the lead singers switched spots with the petite keyboardist who then took center stage to lead a couple of songs with her amazing voice. One of my favorite tunes they played had a piano line that reminded me of “Bennie and the Jets” (and I mean that in a very favorable way.)
Some major props have to be given to the festival’s coordinators and crew of volunteers. I was really impressed with how everything seemed to go off without a hitch and kept on schedule. It really says something about the enjoyment I had when five hours of solid music went by way quicker than I would’ve thought possible. The best thing about night one is that it made me even more excited for night two; I’ve got my dancing shoes ready and my ears are eagerly anticipating what they’re about to be treated to next.