Concert Review: Sidney York & Noel Johnson @ C’est What, 1/30/13

Last week brought with it a double helping of the talented Brandi Sidoryk live and thrilling audiences in Toronto.  Kicking off with a show at C’est What with band Sidney York, music fans were treated to a double-shot of Alberta’s finest musical exports.

Noel Johnson

Up first was Noel Johnson, who now calls Toronto home and made the audience proud of that fact.  “By the campfire, I could sing your favourite song,” he tells us, and one imagines he could, particularly if you’re a fan of blues-laced contemplative songwriting.  With the forthright storytelling and honesty of the likes of Tom Petty circa Wildflowers or Tom Cochrane, Johnson delivers universal truths with warm, rich vocals that feel like the embrace of an old friend, at times soaring to a passion reminiscent of Bono’s best years.  Guitar riffs and lines effectively puncuate  and bring key lyrics into focus, a testament to a man who’s honed his craft.  Take track “Nothing To Lose” as an example, a song that embodies escape.  It’s loaded with the sonic sprawl of a drive into wide open spaces — a feeling of a place emerges, a third dimension.

In a set peppered with material from forthcoming release The Remedy (which OTM will be giving away for Canadian Music Week), the title track absolutely blew me away with its soul-reaching lyrics and a slow swell instrumentation that pulls you in and ultimately underwater, drowning in sound.

Noel Johnson is an artist not to be missed.  Allow me to suggest you prioritize him for Canadian Music Week?  In the meantime, visit his official site and fall in love with his often haunting melodies.

Sidney York

Up next were Sidney York, delivering a set showcasing new tracks from their forthcoming release Hearts alongside fan favourites from2011’s Apocalyptic Radio Cynic.  How best to explain Sidney York to the unfamiliar masses?  Imagine a group of rebels in the high school band, fed up with playing rote orchestrations of classical music staples or the theme from St. Elsewhere (the bane of my band experience).  Let’s say this talented, wild bunch plucks up a dozen or so instruments from the music room and runs away to form a band and promptly shakes up the limits of basic pop, twisting in elements of cabaret and classic 60s girl groups.  It’s a rather unusual way to describe a sound, but Sidney York is extraordinary and thus defies conventional labels.  The classical training and chops of the band informs a clever and fresh song structure with a particular savvy for vocal harmonies.  Better still, where else can you witness the oboe and bassoon roaming the wild like this?

Selections from Hearts shone alongside fan favourites like “Cold In Here” and “Dick and Jane”, brimming with their sometimes sardonic and always witty lyrics.  There’s a twist of additional electronic flavour to the newer songs that serves them well; “I Could Swim” ventures into a prog jam space, a siren’s song luring listeners to a welcome crash upon shores.  Brandi’s pipes remain in fine form:  one thing I love about her opera-trained pipes is her ability to, like PJ Harvey, roam between delicacy and demanded attention as the occasion merits.  Her voice itself is an instrument (as if the band needed another on their crowded stage!), perfectly accompanied by Sheryl Reinhardt and Krista Wodelet.

A must-see for Canadian Music Week, Sidney York packs a live punch the likes of Ali.  Prioritize them, dear readers.

Hearts arrives later in 2013, which means it’s a perfect time to snag Apocalyptic Radio Cynic in anticipation.  Broke, you say?  Enjoy free stuff, you say?  OTM is giving the album away, along with awesome Sidney York swag very soon!  Keep your eyes peeled and swing by their official site.

OTM, in partnership with 2020k, will be hosting a massive Canadian Music Week giveaway, featuring some of our favourite artists.  With multiple prize packs and Twitter giveaways coming, best follow us on Twitter now and stay tuned for our profiles and interviews with the best of the fest!

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