Show Review: Stages Series Creates Community On Campus

By Elena Gritzan

UofT student Sean Mitchell is disillusioned with the fractured, money-grabbing mentality surrounding Toronto’s music scene. “There’s been sort of a corporate culture that has eroded away the independent culture that used to be extremely prevalent in Toronto,” he says. “You’ve got corporate events, you’ve got people only going to big-name shows, you’ve got ticket prices going through the roof for these types of events.” This is all the average student sees: popular artists playing in concrete block rooms, being charged through the roof for a chance to hear bands through a tinny sound system, and, especially for underage first year students, being barred from seeing bands they love since they are unable to contribute to bar profits. What we need is a community celebrating the arts, making them accessible and findable to students. What would be even better is a place on campus for students to gather for the love of music.

Stages is a music series run by the Hart House Music Committee (full disclosure: Demo is run out of the same committee), aiming to be “an avenue for independent artists to showcase their music.” Thursday night’s event in the Arbor room was inspired by the Bloor-Yorkville counter-culture movement in the 60s. Mitchell explains the era’s inspiration in putting together the event: “Bloor-Yorkville was renowned for its counter-culture, its coffee shops, its rampant drug-use, and its low rents. And, most importantly, their artist community. So what they were able to create is something that I wanted to echo, which is the artistic community within Hart House.”

An emphasis on the independent ran consistently throughout the event, featuring art as well as music. Each Stages show will feature a local artist’s work along with the bands. This edition showcased Pixby Max, a local photographer who also acts as the series photographer, returning each time to take pictures of the performing acts. “[Max] is great supporting cast for this movement,” Mitchell says, “because he is independent. He’s not corporate, he does it under his own will … he enjoys doing it.” The series videographer, AG Productions, also creates art for the love of it, carefully documenting the night’s music.

The music itself was a mixed bag of genres, representing talent both local and far-reaching. The night began with U of T’s own Nerissa Kay, a finalist in last year’s U of T Idol competition. Playing with the help of Jeff Willingham on acoustic guitar, Kay admitted to being nervous just before beginning. Yet she sings with a huge confidence, engaging her audience with her extremely controlled, emotional delivery. She aspires to sing with soul: introducing a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”, she expressed admiration for how the R&B singer “always gave it her all when she sang.” That is definitely something that Kay manages to do herself. She has a show-stopper of a voice, and is not afraid to passionately share it with her audience.

Stages’ primary platform is rock music, and this was shown in the next two acts. Toronto’s On Everest blasted through a set of original songs punctuated by the occasional cover (“Stacy’s Mom”, George Michael’s “Faith”) and self-deprecating stage banter. The loudness continued with Ottawa’s Iconoclast, a five-piece heavy rock band with a clear love of spectacle. Various members of the band ventured out into the audience to deliver a guitar solo or epic vocal line. The band’s presence was only made possible by the dedication of Stages to supporting its artists: instead of giving bands a cut of the door (there actually is no cover), they are paid a base salary to cover all important expenses like gas money, food, and everything else you need to keep going as an independent artist.

Idioteque.

The night finished off with Idioteque, a Radiohead tribute band, a logical choice for a night themed around counter-culture. “I think they were a huge part of counter-culture when they came up through the scene,” says singer/guitarist Don Scott about the enigmatic British band, “and they always stuck it to the man and went left when everyone expected them to go right.” You wouldn’t know from listening that the five members of Idioteque focus on jazz music for the majority of their time. Their true-to-record covers spanned the entirety of the eight album discography of their source material, though their set leaned to the heavier side of things due to a missing keyboard player with a broken hand. I have never seen Radiohead live, but I can imagine that this came close on everything other than scale: “Just” inspired foot-tapping and head-banging, the bridge of “Paranoid Android” was a chills-inducing level of haunting, and “I Will” was built up with beautiful vocal harmonies.

Mitchell and his team have big plans for the future of Stages. They are hoping to forge partnerships with the Hart House Art Committee and the UTSU, in order to “bring out as many people as [they] can to these events to then broaden the spectrum of attendance.” Stages gives U of T students a chance to connect, create community, and celebrate art in a venue right on campus. More people should know about these amazing opportunities happening right in their own backyard.

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