Autumn has descended swiftly upon Winnipeg, but for 95 minutes last Thursday night, Royal Canoe summoned the sounds of summer for their longtime fans at the Burton Cummings Theatre. The band’s concert served as both a triumphant homecoming and as an album release for their new LP, Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit (Nevado Records), which is propelled by their new single, “Somersault.”
The band, which formed in Winnipeg in 2010, features former members of beloved local bands The Waking Eyes and The Liptonians. They have spent the past three years touring incessantly behind their 2013 album, Today We’re Believers, and have also supported Bombay Bicycle Club, Alt-J, and Plants + Animals. They’ve also done some terrific renditions of songs from Beck’s sheet-music-only album, Song Reader. The band’s hard work has paid off, and their fan base has clearly grown, allowing them to headline Winnipeg’s 1,600-seat Burton Cummings Theatre.
The band’s success, both at home and on tour, is a product not only of their readily apparent musical talent, but also of logistical decisions the band has made. Frontman Matt Peters has repeatedly said in interviews that the band is committed to living (and, so far, recording) in Winnipeg — a Canadian city dubbed “second-tier” that typically sees its rising musical talent depart for Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, or New York soon after releasing a breakthrough album.
Royal Canoe has also carved out their own unique sound in a crowded contemporary indie music scene. If pressed to identify a genre that fits their music, I would label the band art rock. Personally, I hear influences like Radiohead, Beck, St. Vincent, Tune-Yards, and TV On the Radio. Their music is buoyant, jubilant, and danceable, yet also layered and complex. Atypical rhythms anchor many of their songs, and the band makes full use of two drummers, placing rhythm pads and percussion alongside a conventional kit. I’m particularly impressed by their ability to wring catchiness out of odd time signatures, and to accent standard time signatures to make them more interesting.
Live on stage, the band opted to intersperse new tracks with old ones, rather than play their new album in full. This proved to be a good decision on their part; 50 minutes of brand new music can be a lot to ask of an audience (though the hometown crowd would have happily obliged). While I have yet to hear the LP in its entirety, in a live setting the new songs sounded layered without being overcrowded. When 2017 rolls around, don’t be surprised if Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit garners a Juno or Polaris Prize nomination — or both! The encore seemed to end on a softer note, with a performance of Orbit’s closing track, “BB Gun,” before charging ahead for “Nightcrawling,” pitch-shifted vocals and all, which was quite something to behold.
Throughout the night, the addition of the Dirty Catfish Brass Band on several tracks made for a really special hometown show. Openers Living Hour showed real promise as well, with their distinctive take on shoegaze calling to mind the relaxed angst of Beach House. It’s always great when a headlining band brings along a strong opening act. Winnipeg should be thankful for both of these bands, and for their commitment to the city–especially when it’s 40 below zero.