– By Cristina Dirlea
Line-ups at concerts are part of city life like traffic in the Don Valley Parking lot (DVP). But you know what doesn’t happen on the DVP? One doesn’t get free Monster Truck patches!!! This was the case outside the Phoenix Concert Theatre before doors opened for the start of the 2015 CASBYS! Once inside, fans formed two tight rows right up at the stage, while the rest of the venue was packed full of people, with just enough room to squeeze through while continuously apologizing.
The CASBYs (Canadian Artists Selected By You) were about to crown winners in four categories: Favourite New Artist, Favourite Song, Favourite Album, and Favourite Sugar Beach Session, as voted by Edge listeners, who had won tickets with their hopeful clicking or calls to the radio station.
Monster Truck had been invited to open the CASBYs while they stopped by the Edge studios to perform an acoustic version of their new single “Don’t Tell Me How to Live,” an invitation they gladly accepted.
The heavy velvet curtains that put the “Theatre” in the venue’s name (Phoenix Concert Theatre) opened to reveal the “Truck” who dove right into “Sweet Mountain River” (ta na na na na na!) and their latest single that would become officially available the day after the awards show. Guitarist Jeremy Widerman quipped “that’s it for the broadcast, so we can f*#%ing swear now” and took a swig of beer. They brought even more energy to their last song “Righteous Smoke” and pumped up the crowd, the way only these lovable bearded fellas can.
The winners of The Edge’s Next Big Thing contest, Ivory Hours, were genuinely happy to be sharing the stage with the line-up of great bands and smiled into people’s cell phones while performing “Warpaint” with a noticeably improved stage presence from the contest.
The always funny Fred and Mel took the stage to reveal the winner of the “Molson Canadian Favourite New Artist” category, with the nominees being Alessia Cara, Alvvays, Brave Shores, Coleman Hell, and Ria Mae. Voters crowned Coleman Hell as the winner, who was unable to accept the award in person, since he was in Rhode Island at the time, touring with Cold War Kids; a tough choice for sure.
The Zolas continued the sing-along party with a quick set of their famous songs, such as “Molotov Girls” and “Invisible,” as well as a new tune inspired by Mulan, “the coolest Disney princess ever,” which was dedicated “to all the Mulans out there!” But it wasn’t just talented artists that got people singing. In between sets, familiar Edge songs were blasting from the speakers, keeping people dancing. In addition, the big screens at the back of the stage and to the right of it were playing clips of the various Sugar Beach Sessions that were nominated.
With the first CASBY experience for Kid Craig and the 10th for Adam, they announced the winner in the “Favourite New Song” category from among the following: Alessia Cara’s “Here,” Arkell’s “Leather Jacket” (possibly the cause of Toronto’s leather jacket invasion), Mother Mother’s “Monkey Tree,” USS’ “Shipwreck,” and Young Empire’s “The Gates,” with the award going to USS, who got the crowd excited and cheering for their subsequent performance.
Yukon Blonde had the audience singing “I hear you calling oooout” in no-time, while also delighting with two dancers that put on a choreographed show and later jumped along in unison with the lead singer Jeff Innes, during an instrumental solo. A fellow concert buddy happily observed that the dancers’ outfits were appropriate for a stage performance and yet “not skanky.” The band’s relaxed yet energetic stage presence revealed how seasoned these performers are, as I typed a “note to self” to make sure I jot down their next Toronto date in my calendar (FYI – November 20th at Massey Hall).
“Favourite Sugar Beach Session” winners were Metric, from among live performances by Hey Rosetta!, JJ & the Pillars, Mother Mother, and Yukon Blonde. Kid Craig accepted the award on behalf of Emily Haines, sporting a blonde wig and possibly hinting at his Halloween costume.
Young Empires continued the party atmosphere with fan favourites such as “The Gates” and “Stairway” for the live broadcast, later echoing Monster Truck’s excitement at being able to swear as they got the crowd cheering with arms raised up high in the air during their next few tunes.
Josie Dye and Wade McNeil were proud to reveal the winner of the “Favourite New Record”, going out to Mother Mother’s “Very Good Bad Thing”, but not before encouraging the audience to grab a drink, because quite literally the steamy atmosphere demanded it.
Just like they had promised earlier, Ubiquitous Synergy Seekers were back to deliver an incredibly incendiary show. The crowd had been shouting their name long before the curtains opened, almost drowning out the Edge music. Jason “Human Kebab” Parsons was not just the DJ in charge of remixing the songs, but also the “hype man” with an amount of energy I’d never seen before. Constantly jumping, when not mixing, he fired up the crowd until the humid heat emanating from the audience got people to remove layers, so that they could continue jumping along. USS’ trademark sound combines old-school acoustic songs by self-proclaimed extreme introvert Ashley Buchholz (aka Ash Boo-Schultz) with heavy drum and bass beats. The result indeed mirrors their moniker, as this unique sound proves to be greater than the sum of its parts. “Human Kebab” continued to craze up the crowd, knocking over the mic stand on purpose numerous times, but remained unphased as a fan climbed up on stage and busted a few dance moves before security quickly removed her. Clearly the extrovert of the duo, he sported a “Blue Jays” hat during a song, before throwing it back into the crowd while yelling “Go Jays Go!” The song “Absolute” was appropriately remixed with Kris Kross’ ’92 hit “Jump”, seamlessly alternating with Buchholz’ acoustic guitar.
As if the stage theatrics weren’t enough to get people fired up, fog machines blasted fiercely in unison with the deep beats, thereby adding another layer to this excellent performance. At one point, Parsons announced: “Yeah, it’s getting f$#%ing crazy in here. I’m coming out there, you ready?” before flying into the sea of arms that carried him into the centre of the crowd and back, to the ever growing excitement of fans. He just had to utter “This is the best” and the crowd started singing instantly, leaving Parsons free to jump over monitors and beyond. During “Sniper Hyperbole,” Buchholz was nearly pulled off stage as he sang at the edge to the rowdy crowd, while later two more fans climbed on stage. Their encore “Damini” was dedicated to elephants, who “can’t jump, so we’re gonna jump for them!” Parsons quipped and subsequently played the tambourine against his head. At the end of the show they threw band merch into the crowd and said heartfelt “Thank you’s” to the previous bands, The Edge and “every single f#%$ing person in this building!” while the audience was still chanting their name, not wanting them to leave. On the way out of the venue people were still pumped, skipping and jumping towards the exit, while still singing USS lyrics.