There’s something a little magical about the unknown quantity. I don’t mean that in an arrogant, hipster, “knew it before it was cool” sort of way. If something is good, then it is still good regardless of how many people know it is good. The magic comes from the not knowing, and the subsequent surprise. If I go to see Kanye at the Air Canada Centre, I know exactly which songs he will perform and how they sound. It’s still a wonderful experience, but it lacks the freshness of the unknown, something everyone should try once in a while. These were my thoughts as I walked down the steps of the Cavern near Church and Adelaide last Friday night.
The show was free, the stage was small, and the lighting was dim. But the energy was bubbling, and the fifty-person capacity had largely been filled. Outside of any friends of the three acts, no one knew what they would sound like. A catchy hook or turn of phrase that had yet to become ubiquitous could very well infect my mind, and I had no idea.
The first was Jake Feeney, an acoustic singer-songwriter from Etobicoke. His songs were intimate, bereft of excess, and even though they dealt in tales of love and romance, they showed an unexpected maturity. He covered the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright” where he was joined by Mark, the congo player for headliners I am the Mountain. It was an utterly unique and unexpected combination that is wholly singular to the Cavern, it is highly unlikely I will ever hear those songs in that context ever again. The former cover had an almost reggae feel to it. Such combos are a theme of both the night itself and these kinds of shows in general.
I am the Mountain was next, comprising the congo, the trumpet, plus the guitar and occasional keys, it was an interesting mix. That same adjective applied to the music itself, a nostalgic blend of soulful vocals and layered performances. Their original songs ran the range and straddled the line between raucous and personal. Going in completely blind like I did was a welcome surprise, especially after their rendition of Drake’s “Jungle.”
A big part of the appeal of these shows is the improvisation that is allowed along with the audience interaction. Both coalesced in their impromptu jazzy song in which they took an audience Q and A. It was a highly entertaining moment, and encapsulated the ethos of the unsigned band: Say yes to everything. Case in point, Mark the congo player. “He jammed with us at some open mics and asked if he could do this with us. It was a rare treat.” Said band member Colton O’Reilly.
Last was the Chats, another act from Etobicoke. A pop-rock band with a bit of Beach Boys, combined with jittery riffs and confident vocals, they were also a great way to end the night. The improvisational nature of the show was once again on display as they were joined by Mark and Keith the trumpet player to join in on their originals and covers. Their covers included Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” while they allowed their guitarist Arthur Podpora to take centre stage for a Howling Wolf-esque original and a cover of Mac DeMarco’s “Viceroy.” Later, their friend Katherine King stepped up for another original and a searing cover of Frank Ocean’s “Sweet Life.” They ended their set with an encore cover of “Scar Tissue,” a song they admittedly did not entirely know, but that only made the performance that much more fun.
“I love those kind of shows where it’s kind of eclectic, its low pressure, low stress, and people are talking but they’re also really intently listening. When it gets quiet in a bar, that’s a rare moment. It was a really special night.” Says Colton. There’s no way to have that banter with the artist in an arena, and the improvisational nature ensures the night is a wholly singular experience. It’s a theme that I now love and will continue to seek out at the Cavern and bars like it, not for my credibility but because of the sheer unexpectedness.