Words By: Gerrod Harris
On Friday, February 20th, Cairo celebrated the release of their debut album, A History Of Reasons, along with opening acts Elliott Maginot, and Sun K. Fans were tightly packed at Lee’s Palace for what would become a night showcasing three excellent Toronto bands.
Elliott Maginot took the stage close to 9. Backed by a drummer, a synth player, and another guitarist who would occasionally play bass, Maginot’s music was very similar to that of Cairo’s, only there were no acoustic guitars, and it was pretty synth-heavy. Normally I’m not one to enjoy a synthesiser but this was done tastefully to add a solid harmonic foundation and a new layer of texture to the songs. This made for a combination of modern electronic elements with traditional folk technique, creating a unique, danceable indie-folk experience. Maginot was clearly bursting with energy, taking full advantage of the small stage by often spinning and hopping around. With his powerful voice he played through a set which started slower, calmer, and escalated towards a climactic decrescendo which left the audience wanting more. The only thing I felt would improve his set would be to add a few different textures, maybe through a guitar pedal effect as I felt towards the end of the set it was a little too much of the same sound. Despite this, however, Elliott Maginot performed greatly; his songs are well written and just as well played in a live setting. I would highly recommend catching one of his shows in the Toronto scene.
Up next were Sun K who are label mates with Cairo, both of whom are signed to MapleMusic Recordings. Their music was jarringly different when compared to Elliott Maginot and Cairo, but in a good way. Their set added variety to the night and was strategically placed in between the two similar acts. Their look was very 1970’s vintage, and their sound was of the blues rock of that same era. Their singer sounded like an edgier, more audible Bob Dylan, their lead guitarist has moves like Keith Richards, and their keyboardist sounded like The Doors’ Ray Manzarek. Their set ranged from hard hitting rock tunes, to slower, swaying ballads, all done with style. They had a good level of stage presence and were able to get the front of the crowd dancing. I very much enjoyed their set. Their music was very fun to listen to and featured some tasteful guitar solos, and the keyboard solos were excellently played. Occasionally the keyboardist would pick up a trumpet and play these very funky lines, which really added a unique element to their music. While being strongly rooted in 1970’s blues rock, Sun K’s music had a modern edge to it, and managed to sound fresh and current. They will be releasing their debut album, Northern Lies, on March 10th, and if it is anything like their set, then it is definitely worth a listening to.
By the time Cairo started playing at half past 11, Lee’s Palace was almost completely packed. It was tight enough for singer Nate Daniels to call the audience “good looking sardines”. It was very clear that this was their show, and it was great to see their fans had braved the horribly cold weather to celebrate Cairo’s A History Of Reasons, which was released January 20th, 2015 (Find our album review here). Cairo kicked off their set with their single, “A History Of Reasons“. They continued to play through their album with the ambient “With You” and the groovy “Age/Sex/Race”. Everything about their performance was better than the album; what was already a solid recording was brought to life with such a tight connection between the five members. Daniels’ voice is very powerful, ranging from a haunting whisper to a roar. With the addition of Matt Sullivan’s bombastic drumming, Caitlin Grieve’s melodic violin lines, Dante Berardi Jr’s mellow electric guitar, and Joel Dalton’s steady bass, Cairo make for an excellent band with a unique, alternative spin on modern indie pop. Daniels’ was on to something when he stated to the crowd, “This is so much fun! Better than staying home and masturbating on a Friday night.”
The background projections often would mimic the moods of their music: going from tranquil landscapes and slow moving lights to something more unpredictable and hectic when the music’s intensity kicked in. This was most notable first in “Kingdoms” with its highly contrasting soft verses, and louder choruses. After they were joined onstage by Toronto’s Lauren Lyon who provided rich backing vocals on “Render”. They also indulged the audience with a fan favorite, “Addict” from the Young Love EP. Cairo ended their set with the wonderful “Starry Eyes”. As an encore, Daniels’ came back onstage for an encore with just an acoustic guitar where he performed “Nothing” the bonus track from A History Of Reasons. The rest of Cairo joined him onstage for a loud and energetic jam where they went into their tribally fueled, “Extinguishing Fires”, a song which starts with a slow, acoustic guitar being finger picked and a melancholic vocal line, but it builds up until it can’t help but explode into a whirlwind of thick guitar, pounding drums, and moving violins. Towards the end the band invited a few friends onto the stage to play on a few drums, adding to the overall climax of the song, and their show. Much to my own surprise they chose to end the show with a big rock ending, with crashing cymbals, booming drums, and a lot of feedback, bringing the end to their musical celebration with style.
All three bands performed great sets and I would recommend checking out their recorded music, as well as their live sets if you ever get the chance to. Cairo successfully commemorated the release of A History Of Reasons with a spectacular performance of nearly the entire record. They will spend the rest of 2015 touring and promoting their album, both locally, and internationally. All and all, Lee’s Palace hosted a special night with some great music; ultimately serving as a reminder of what a diverse and unique musical culture Toronto has to offer.