On Saturday May 14th, The Blind Dog (671 Ouellette Ave.) was overrun by skinny jeans and plaid as the first ever Gateway Festival brought over 15 pop and rock bands in for an all day show. My day started there around 4pm and consisted of 15 bands in the following 8 hours.
My first act of the day was David John Zelko a.k.a This Man Tells Stories a.k.a David John Zelko, doing his solo acoustic thing. (He might be recognized from The Beijing Bike Club and Run Penelope Run!) His vocals are unique and enjoyable in their nasally high pitched-ness that never quite manages to be whiny, but unfortunately the guitar, as great sounding as it was, drowned them out rather frequently. His set was closed off my an interesting mash-up that started off as Lady GaGa’s ‘Poker Face’, mutated into ‘Billie Jean’, from there into Stevie Ray Vaughn’s ‘Pride and Joy’, and finally back into ‘Poker Face’ which ended things to enthusiastic response from the crowd.
Up next on the main stage were Empty Spaces, a band that looked like some high school kids, so good for them. The lead vocals took a bit for me to warm up to, but eventually I came around and more or less enjoyed them, and the screaming keyboardist did a good job at that (although simply standing with arms crossed when not actually playing might not have been the best choice). The music was catchy and repetitive, like a less depressed version of Stutterfly. Their closing cover was Coheed and Cambria’s ‘Welcome Home’, which come off as rather awkward, but was a nice attempt.
Visiting from Hamilton were Pull Start Rockets, a pop-punk band fit for mainstream radio. The kind of band that sings “woah-oh-ohohoh” and encourages the audience to clap along, they were clearly an experienced group and all very good players. They were fun to watch and had a good overall sound, although the vocals weren’t distinguishable enough to know exactly what they were singing about. I’ll assume girls and having a good time.
Another out of town group, this time from Kitchener, Breaching Vista was up next, playing in support of their recently released full length “Vera City”. Again, these guys are tight players and clearly used to being on stage, and I could easily imagine their light rock sound on the radio. A modern day boy band, is what I would have to call them. And that’s not necessarily a band thing; I loved The Backstreet Boys growing up.
Last time I reviewed these guys, I wasn’t handing out as much love as I sometimes do. This time however, I’ll say that Bleach sounded MUCH better than last time, and that I thoroughly enjoyed an overall good set from them. Vocals were reminiscent of Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, with some driving and chugging guitars to help pull everything along. Classic rock sounding solos over modern rock styled music, it worked out well. Their grittier sound was also a nice break after all of the light and airy pop melodies that preceded them. Now I just wonder if the vocalist owns a shirt aside from his Rage Against The Machine one…
A staple in the Windsor music scene, Inoke Errati took the main stage, and played to what I thought to be a very disappointing crowd. I remember much larger ones at shows when I was in high school, and was a bit surprised to see only 20 people come out for them, especially considering they’re coming off the recent release of their EP ‘Makeouts and Movie Stars.’ But despite the size of the crowd, they played well, blasting through a set of traditional pop, full of catchy hooks and sing-along songs. They closed with ‘Jennifer’ a big hit around here from their 2006 album ‘The Wink and The Gun’ which they released a video for a couple of months back. One of the girls from that video happened to be in the crowd, and joined them onstage as a backup dancer, along with David John Zelko, much to the amusement of band and audience.
Out of Burlington, Truth Be Told gathered on the small stage, to play some mediocre pop songs for everyone. Not that I totally disliked this band (Or I would’ve said bad pop songs) just that they were nothing special, and especially in an all day show like this, you must have something to make you stand out, or you’ll be lost and forgotten in the melee of male tank-tops, bright colours, and power chords. They had a great energy, though, everyone jumping around on stage really creating a party atmosphere. And they frequently had a sound like hardcore turned pop, with two-step style beats overlayed by the typical and interchangeable pop vocals. Potentially cool , these guys just need some work. So no, I didn’t exactly dislike them, I guess I was just looking to hear something a bit different by this point.
And I didn’t find that in the next band.
Windsor’s Hello Audio were another group that were certainly not bad, all good players with some stage presence, but again just the typical pop group. Their lyrics were cute, singing about things like not giving up because there are people who believe in you, which was a nice change from things like seeing a girl across the room at a party. The guitars were kinda jangly, which was interesting, expect they were a bit drowned out in delay, which I found to be a bummer. Again though, not a bad band. Back in the days of Last Hope Promotions shows I would’ve loved to see them play alongside the likes of Thane and Riverside, but I’m not fourteen anymore. Luckily, there are those who are!
We Can Be Heroes have been reviewed a number of times by this point, and I don’t have much new to say on them. Their performances are always full of energy and entertaining, their samples always come off a Mac, and their guitars always sound crispy. They’ve got some recordings on the go at the moment, so keep an ear out for those.
And this is the point where things seem to start taking a turn for the rock. Up until now, with the exception of Bleach, everything had been pop, power-pop, pop-punk, or some other derivative of the pop genre.
The Tragedy of Mariam, helped turn the tides with a successful blend of pop and rock. The instrumentals lack the fruity, airy quality of some of the previous groups, and sounded more like modern alternative rock, the sort of thing you might find on the heavier side of 89X. The vocals were typical male pop vocals, could have been the guy from Truth Be Told but in a different shirt, for all I knew. One of the things I found most interesting about their set was their stage presence. The vocalist bounced around the stage in his bright yellow t-shirt and khaki slacks, while everyone else hungout in black, wagging their heads. More like the attitude of an unenthusiastic metal band. The combination was interesting, though, and the strangeness of it made me pay attention, so I guess it worked.
Windsor’s two-piece blues favorites, The Blue Stones, went up and did their thing, and did it well. You won’t see acrobatics on stage from them, but you will get well written, played, and performed music. Arriving in suits, they made quite a visual impression on stage, even without the theatrics some other bands employ. They leave your senses free to focus on their music, and it’s hard to be disappointed by their bluesy rockishness. Check out their new self-titled EP and video for ‘I’m a Stereo,’ by local director Gavin Michael Booth.
Playing their first show ever, these guys were one of my top acts of the night. Diesel Junkies were bluesy southern hard rock, with straight up ridiculous bass tones and perfectly gritty guitars. The vocals fit nicely over top of everything with their slight but of dirt and scratch, and the drums back it all up beautifully with consistent beats and a substantiality that didn’t overpower everything else. As an unexpected twist, synth samples showed up here and there, lending some delicious ear candy to the mix and only intensifying my delight in their set. And I wasn’t the only one impressed, after just their first song the crowd erupted, and their intense appreciation remained throughout.
Familiar with their song ‘Fight With Honour’ I had some expectations going into Falling With Glory. And I can’t say they were met or not, because what I was faced with was unexpected. Musically it was what I figured; very alike to Avenged Sevenfold and other such groups who are blending metal, rock, punk, and pop and finding homes on the airwaves. But their stage show, that was certainly a change from everything else we’d seen that day. With copious use of smoke machines, floodlights, and other lighting effects, before they started playing I figured they were compensating for some less-than-stellar tunes with a crazy stage show. (Yeah, I like their recordings, but live and studio are completely different things) This wasn’t the case though, and they delivered great-sounding songs that would have rocked even without the flair.
State of Us were completely new to me, and to be honest I was not expecting much when I saw them come on stage. They certainly showed me not to judge so quick. By the chorus of the first song, I was hooked. The awkwardness I expected from these guys who look like they could be 15 was not there at all, and instead I saw some terrific stage presence, not ostentatious, just what they seemed to enjoy doing while playing, the sort of thing I imagine they do in their jam space when having a good time rocking out. I’d call them more of a pop-punk group, but they still stood out from any other similar acts of the day. Everything was tight, the guitars has a coating of blues to them that worked amazingly well, and the vocalist reminded me of Roger, the bassist from Less Than Jake. A definite win for them, getting that comparison. The music was fun and lighthearted, without being a joke. These dudes are clearly serious about their music and playing. To close they performed an instrumental cover medley featuring hits from bands such as Franz Ferdinand, AC/DC, and Blink 182.
To finish off a long day, Thieves in Remand took things over. Prior to this they’ve had gigs at The New Seminole Bar and Grill and Leopard’s Lounge and Broil, so it was nice to see them leaving the bar circuit and joining a bill with some other bands. Neither the music nor the band could be called bouncy, the tunes all have a rather melancholy feel to them, and the way the players would strut around the stage fit well with that. Tight playing with a good sound, they are what you’d look for in a good alternative rock band. Sadly, as good as the band was, being the last to play an all day show that is running more than an hour behind means that Thieves in Remand played to a much smaller crowd than pretty much everyone else. Didn’t matter so much though, because the band still played as if the place were packed, and those who did stick around certainly got into what was coming from the stage.
It was a long day, and I think I’ll be staying back from any more day-long shows like this one for a little while, but I’m still glad that I went. If you ever get the chance to see any of these bands as part of a show of reasonable length, I’d recommend going to see pretty much any of them.
To see a lot more pictures, click here.