CMW Review: Come As You Are Fundraiser @ The Great Hall, 05/06/14

Editorial: Amber Waves
Photography: Joseph Deogracias

Where were you on April 8th, 1994?

It was a question exchanged in hushed tones between strangers at Tuesday night’s Come As You Are. A culmination of the In Bloom project, last night’s event served not only as a kick-off to Canadian Music Week 2014 but, more critically, as a fundraiser benefiting Delisle Youth Services.  Specifically:

Celebrating Cobain 20 years after his passing, IN BLOOM: A CELEBRATION OF TEEN SPIRIT AND THE ARTS highlights his artistic talents and human rights advocacy, his struggles with addiction and mental health, as well as his suicide to wedge open conversations with youth about mental and emotional well-being, identities, and the incalculable value of the arts in shaping teen experience.

As its moniker would suggest, the Nirvana-themed event brought together musicians of all stripes with one common vision: sharing a Nirvana song that resonated for the performer and, on a broader scale, youth in general.

I was thirteen when Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home. A fledgling fan, I was in the midst of a shift in my music preferences. I no longer listened to music that simply sounded fun or “good”; I had entered an age of great confusion and yes, angst. I wanted someone to understand the chaos in my head — grunge and rock delivered. My father, however, was a huge fan. He’s always been cool like that. Classmates cried and wrote the band’s name on every chalkboard, as if seeking that which the band named themselves after.

We were all searching for a little piece of Nirvana in those dirty halls with lockers in horrid shades of blue and green.

Come As You Are became an event of many generations, the crowd as fascinating and engaging to contemplate as each artist’s take on Cobain’s catalogue. Teens, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, even fifty-somethings – all were nodding, singing and even stomping along. The universality of the lyrics was readily apparent.

Kicking off with Queen Of The Fleet and their rendition of “Scoff”, it was refreshing to see that artists felt no need to constrain themselves to the tunes as written. A gorgeous acoustic rendition of “Polly” by In Bloom organizer Kathleen Munroe tugged the heartstrings taut, while Abstract Random’s mash-up of “Love Buzz/Stay Away” initially caught the crowd off guard, ultimately winning them over with a swell of sound and a gut wrenching scream as punctuation.

Of great amusement to me was Wildlife’s incredible take on grunge anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. A passionate performance that veered almost eerily into perfect mimicry of Cobain at times, I had to chuckle as a couple of lines were fumbled. It’s a song that everyone seems to know by heart, even if they hate rock. I’ll assume we can blame it on the Cuervo, but really, it didn’t matter. We roared and cheered anyway. Equally spectacular was Biblical’s performance of “School” – as if they were trying to restore the balance of loudness in complement to earlier stripped renditions.

Mostly upbeat, the night hit poignant notes at times. ESA’s Jamme Choir stepped onto the stage and delivered a version of “Come As You Are” that was a perfect tribute to the event and In Bloom in general. But it was the performance of “All Apologies” by Light Fires that was, for me, the emotional highlight of the evening. Maybe it was the resonance for me as a bisexual woman, as a woman with queer friends who did not have the utterly supportive family I came out to; maybe it was an echo of how each of us has felt a compulsion to apologize for our truth and simultaneous defiance of that demand. It was simply perfect.

If there is one criticism to be made of the event, it was the staging and coordination of the performances. While early on, the one-song-per-performer notion worked fairly fluidly, more readily managed by acts with stripped accompaniment, by 10pm, we were waiting 15-20 minutes for a single song. In the end, not even July Talk could convince me to stick it out with a 1-hour commute home and an early corporate workday ahead.

(Yes, I’m kicking myself for missing them performing my favourite Nirvana song. At least I can console myself with memories of last weekend’s epic Lee’s Palace performance.)

Execution aside, it was a great cause and a night of incredible talents coming together through the power of another talent, lost 20 years ago. A worthwhile way to kick off the festival, it’s a concept I would love to see repeated annually for the sake of youth who, like me, find their solace in song.

To learn more about In Bloom and the ways you can support the critical work of Delisle Youth Services, please visit their official site.

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