Sure a JUNO nomination is nothing to be snuffed at but a Live At Massey Hall (the LAMH), I would venture, is a far better indicator of who is doing remarkable work among Canadian music makers. In and around the same time the 2016 JUNO nominations were announced, Chilly Gonzales played the Live At Massey Hall series with the Kaiser Quartet. He played Feb 5, with singer/songwriter Alejandra Ribera and her two-piece band opening the evening.
The Massey Hall showcase, now in its third season, features a wide selection of not-so-mainstream Canadian success stories, artists of an independent bent but with an international audience, artists who swim beyond the streams the JUNO drinks from.
JUNO offered up Drake, Mendes, Bieber, Weeknd, Nickelback and other Billboard topping stories from its pool but the LAMH went to Chilly, the ex-pat pianist who has collaborated with Daft Punk, Peaches and Feist, who is as adept in classical as in electronica, in pop as in disco and a beslippered vaudevillian ham at his core. He entertained period. He played as is his wont selections from Chambers, his most recent release but he utilized the Kaiser Quartett as one would a synthesizer, self-proclaimed. During the two hour performance he moved from the thunder of a Beethoven to the chippiness of a Mozart as he rolled up and down the keys and who but Chilly could have two thousand people stand up in Massey Hall to do the Robot Dance. Bet we looked good. . . Feist arrived to guest during the encore. Chilly is no James Last Hooked on Classics pitchman but it this is Classical Music colour me converted and break out the tails.
The LAMH has gone previously to artists such as Destroyer, Coeur De Pirate, Basia Balat, Zaki Ibrahim, Timber Timbre, Shad, Chad VanGaalen, Hayden, Great Lake Swimmers, Constantines, Lisa LeBlanc, Sloan, Tanya Tagaq and Owen Pallett among others; not exactly household names. But they have performed on the stage of the Old Lady of Shuter Street, their shows filmed, recorded and edited for later broadcast on the Massy Hall YouTube site (most of those mentioned are now available to re-enjoy).
And yes there is overlap between the JUNO and the LAMH; Coeur De Pirate is JUNO nominated this year and Chilly was nominated in 2011 for Ivory Tower in the Electronic Album category. But the difference between the two is as stark as Bach and Black Eyed Peas. JUNO rewards those who have gained a popularity, a notoriety. Success is in terms of business not artistry, not mutually exclusive it must be added but rarely twinned up on an annual basis. How does one reward artistry? Who judges? The Polaris Music Prize endeavours to broach the subject but is left dangling between Arcade Fire and Drake? Can one billion hamburger buyers be wrong about taste? Is popularity the antithesis of art. No. . . but sales is not the only way to weigh value. Someone needs to create a new measurement and Live At Massy Hall is as fine a gauge as one can get.
The room, the stage, the status and the ambience, the history, the space, the ghosts of past and their lingering presence. It is among the finest halls in the world and recognized as such by many artists who have performed, or long to perform, on its worn wooden boards. Combine all of it with a booking policy that is adventurous and dangerous, risky, edgy, one that prioritizes artistry over business acumen and what one gets is a business that is setting the pace, sounding out the parameters, a business model that is as creative and forward thinking as the artists on stage.
The JUNOs rarely break an artist, maybe make an artist. But the work is completed long before JUNO gets a sense of the nominee. The LAMH it seems, seeks out the new, the rare, the undiscovered and brings its historic heft to the presentation of the artist. The LAMH lauds the future not the past of its artists.
Alejandra Ribera is one such example. The singer/songwriter is, as they say new to me, although she has been performing globally and released an album, La Boca, in 2014. Ribera sings in French, Spanish and English and lives sometimes in Montreal, sometimes Paris but is from Toronto originally. She is of Scottish and Argentinian heritage. She is visceral on stage, her songs are corporeal, bodies, they carry the weight of hips and the form of lips, they sway and emanate, wrap and curve around Ribera who dances inside them. Ribera was a revelation and a revelation is what one has come to expect from the LAMH; a reward, a rejuvenation, a lust for live, of joy, and ultimately, revelation.
You know the JUNOS, they are the same old tame old. But the LAMH, the LAMH . . . thats for the top shelf.