CMW 2014: Wednesday

By Aviva L.

I kicked off my first night of CMW at the Hard Luck Bar, intrigued by the geographically diverse line-up of promising bands – each band hailed from a different city, including musicians from Geelong, Australia, San Francisco, and Toronto.

Justin Keenan

I was greeted by the sounds of Justin Keenan wielding an acoustic guitar along with his accompaniment as soon as I walked into the bar. Hard Luck was completely flooded with his folk-rock sound, and the crowd tapped their feet from their seats. His warm and slightly growling voice was engaging, reminiscent of Frank Turner.

Although the set was sparsely attended, it wasn’t due to Keenan’s lack of talent. Rather, the set was early, and like many festival shows, can get lost in the overwhelming listings. While I probably would not go out of my way to see him again, I enjoyed the music and it was a pleasure to catch his set.


A crowd finally started milling by Hard Luck’s stage right before HIGHS’ 10 o’clock show. Clearly a Toronto favourite, the five-piece alt-pop band had high energy and a setlist full of danceable tunes. They started right out of the gate with a catchy and percussion-heavy tune that got heads and feet moving.

HIGHS primarily features a male vocalist, but the female keyboardist joined in for refreshing harmonies and back-up vocals during the bulk of the set. In a pleasant change of pace, she stepped into centre stage for the final song, showing off her own great voice and assurance as a lead vocalist.

The band’s musical creativity was apparent in every song – while each tune had a pop-y hook, different influences of folk, rock, and Afro-beat seeped into their music. A highlight was the additional drum in the center of the stage, which each band member took a turn pounding on.

HIGHS was extremely fun to watch, creating an upbeat and welcoming atmosphere. It was obvious that they loved playing together – a trait that is often difficult to display amidst  the band’s concentration on the crowd – and it was clear that they wanted their audience to have a good time. Ultimately, HIGHS is a Toronto band definitely worth catching at their next show.


Sleepy Sun at the Hard Luck Bar during CMW 2014.

Sleepy Sun at the Hard Luck Bar during CMW 2014.

Sleepy Sun

A long awaited dessert, headliners Sleepy Sun took the stage at 11 o’clock. Hailing from San Francisco, the psychedelic four-piece are a band I have been itching to see for a long time. Many more people filed into the Hard Luck in anticipation of the set, filling the floor.

The first song commanded all attention on the lead singer – albeit the smallest member of the band, he had strong presence as his striking voice echoed throughout the bar.  His powerful vocals were confident, yet he sang with remarkable ease. The vocals weaved in and out with the waves of music, often blending together, and I found myself wishing I could hear more of his voice.

The swirling, multi-layered songs made it hard to believe that all that sound was coming from the four slow-moving guys on the stage. As can be expected with psychedelic music, the songs were lengthy and the music drawn out. In some instances, the long jams got to be a little much, but there was great intuition in the music. They often changed it up before it got boring, adjusting the tempo or bringing in a new instrument. The lead singer used a harmonica, maracas, and a tambourine to punctate his vocals, and towards the end of the set the bassist started banging on a clava.

Sleepy Sun repeatedly created a dreamy atmosphere and then snapped the audience out of it with hard-hitting and unexpected turns in their music. It was overall an enjoyable set and a great end to the night.


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