TORONTO — Joel Plaskett said his was the highest band in the world and for an hour he was right. No drugs were needed for this truly rock ‘n roll moment on Wednesday afternoon when the annual Canadian Music Week kicked off its 30th year more than 1,800 feet in the air. Plaskett and his backing band, the Emergency, were the headliners on the Observation level of Canada’s tallest free-standing structure, and they seemed as wowed by the venue as anyone in the crowd of about 100 people who gathered for the occasion.
More than once, Plaskett could be seen checking out the view on an absolutely gorgeous day where Lake Ontario stretched to the horizon interrupted only by the Toronto islands dotting it. Planes took off and landed at Billy Bishop Airport, a touch of hazy cloud cover lingered in the distance, and the waterfront skyline glistened in 24 Celsius degree heat. With that spectacular backdrop, the kickoff to CMW truly did reach new heights.
“It’s pretty trippy,” the Nova Scotian rocker said just before taking the stage at 6 pm. “My bass player was pretty freaked coming up the elevator, I’ll tell you that much.”
Any nervousness was long gone by the time the band kicked into their set, which opened with “You’re Mine” from the fine new album “Scrappy Happiness.” Plaskett also had fun with the moment, playing a bit of u2’s “Elevation” and stretching his hands above his lanky frame, which wouldn’t look out of place during March Madness, and to the CN Tower’s ceiling. He had some Gord Downie-esque antics with a mischievous microphone pole while delivering a powerful show that he and everyone else will be talking about for the rest of the week and beyond.
“This is our first time in Toronto and this is pretty amazing,” said Jonathan Sasse of Slacker Radio, the primary sponsor of CMW. “You couldn’t ask anything more from a venue.”
Sasse said he is terrified of heights and joked the ride in the tower’s glass elevator traumatized him. Once he got up to the sure footing on the Observation level, he was loving the moment along with other VIPS, media members and a few fans in attendance. “To be able to have a show up here, with the view of the water, this is pretty special,” Sasse said.
Ben Caplan, a Halifax native, was likewise impressed by the CMW’s ability to pull off a show at the tower. The day’s opening act was thoroughly entertaining with his outrageously long beard, raucous microphone etiquette and booming, melodic voice. As much a stand-up comic as he is a talented artist, Caplan led the crowd in singalongs and playful banter.
“I didn’t believe I was going to get this opportunity. I couldn’t even get into CMW last year. The fact that I’m able to not only kick it off but to play in this great venue at the CN Tower it’s just an exciting moment,” Caplan said.
Festival coordinator Zach Gordensky said the CN Tower was on board quickly when the CMW organizers approached them with the idea of holding the opening at Toronto’s predominant landmark. Having delivered an undeniable hit, we just might see an encore of this sky-high opening in future editions of Canada’s largest music festival.
BLACKIE & THE RODEO KINGS THRILL MASSEY HALL: The feel-good moment of CMW’s opening night came at Massey Hall, where Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing revelled with many of their longtime fans in their first headline show at the venerable Toronto venue. “It took us 15 years to get here and we’re just loving it,” said Linden, who produced Blackie & the Rodeo Kings‘ fabulous album “Kings & Queens,” featuring several guest female vocalists including Roseanne Cash, Emmylou Harris and Patti Scialfa. Joining them on stage at Massey Hall were Amy Helm, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Holly Cole and Serena Ryder. It’s a well-deserved moment for three of Canada’s finest songwriters and musicians, and great guys, too.
TREBLE CHARGER REUNITES: For the first time in nine years, Greig Nori, Bill Priddle, Rosie Martin and Trevor MacGregor took the stage together as Sault Ste. Marie’s favourite band reformed for this year’s Canadian Music Fest, which will include a performance at Saturday’s Indie Showcase at the Royal York. On Wednesday, they were the headliners at the Phoenix Concert Theatre and put together an energetic set that got the mosh pit going and the fans singing along to their hits “American Psycho” and “How She Died.”
MORE ABOUT CMW
Dates: March 21-25, 2012
Schedule and Wristbands: To find out the schedule, read about all of the artists, and to purchase wristbands, or tickets to single shows, visit the CMW website. Wristband pickup is at the Royal York Hotel, the CMW host site.
Tips: Vacay.ca has stories on what bands to see and where to eat during CMW.