Hey Rosetta! @ the Media Club, 3/27/09

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Normally, I couldn’t care less about the self-congratulatory corporate sideshow that is the Juno Awards (anything that glorifies Nickelback is the enemy). But this year, with the awards being hosted in Vancouver, I’ve reaped the benefits of JunoFest, the city-wide festival showcasing many of the country’s best independent acts. The folk-rock collective Hey Rosetta! is one of the many bands burned by the award nominations, but the Junos gave the St. John’s band its due credit in the form of a headlining slot at the Media Club on Friday night.

Shawn Hlookoff opened the show with a set of slick, serviceable folk ballads and sensitive piano pop. Accompanied by a guitarist and a percussionist, his music sounded pretty much like anything you’d hear on the soundtrack to Grey’s Anatomy (think John Mayer crossed with McDreamy).

Second on the bill was local pop rock five-piece Said the Whale, who kicked things off with the much-YouTubed single “This City’s a Mess” from last year’s Howe Sounds/Taking Abalonia. The rest of the set, however, was dominated by new material, as frontmen Tyler Bancroft and Ben Worcester traded off on cuts from the group’s forthcoming album. The stand-out moment was the smash-hit-in-waiting “The Magician,” a chunky riff-rocker with a hook so massive it could make Rivers Cuomo blush. The set was capped off with another new song, “Goodnight Moon,” which began as a gentle ukulele ballad before exploding into frantic strumming and euphoric “ba ba ba” shouts.

Next up was the Midway State, and the Toronto group immediately lost my interest by beginning its set with pompous arena lighting and dramatic, prerecorded intro music played over the PA. It sounded a bit like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who, and it might have been impressive if performed in a stadium in front of 30,000 people; in a stuffy basement club, however, it came off as silly. The set itself was comprised of grandiose piano pop, its blatant Anglophilia making the group almost indistinguishable from Coldplay or Keane.

Thankfully, Hey Rosetta! brought things back down to earth with a no-nonsense set of impassioned chamber folk and whiskey-fueled roots rock. Despite having six musicians on stage, singer Tim Baker’s voice soared above it all, his sonorous vibrato resembling John Frusciante on the best day ever. The band’s sound was more hard-hitting live, with blistering takes on “Red Heart” and “There’s an Arc” that far outstripped their recorded versions in terms of sheer energy. With a dual guitar attack and the occasional extended jam, the band sounded at times a bit like My Morning Jacket (this is what Evil Urges could have been if it didn’t suck). The highlight came on the final song of the night, as the group showed off its Newfie roots on the folksy “New Goodbye.” With the clock nearing 2 AM, the song swelled from an acoustic ballad into a full-blown epic, its transcendent pay-off coming with the lyric “I will die wide-eyed.”
 
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