For at least the second time in under a month, a bunch of Canadians infiltrated Arlene’s Grocery to hear some voices from home. This time however, instead of a cross-country showcase, it was a group of musicians from a select part of our northern neighbor, Manitoba, and more specifically, the city of Winnipeg. I will out myself right now and say that I grew up in Winnipeg, so feel free to call me biased, but Winnipeg is a hidden musical gem. The scene in the city right now is blossoming, and this Manitoba Music showcase only helped to prove my point.
JP Hoe is a personal favorite—this was my fourth time seeing him live, and he consistently impresses me. There is a richness to his voice, especially in his upper register, that is so satisfying and emotive that you feel it right in your gut. Not to mention the guy definitely knows how to pen a song; his lyrics are sharp and clever without feeling overworked or pretentious. Hoe played five songs from his newest album, Mannequin, including a goose-bump-inducing rendition of “Conversation.” As sound issues were being resolved, Hoe regaled the crowd with stories of pornography and his over-talkative neighbor kid, before launching into “Goodbye Or Goodnight,” the album closer, with a guest vocal appearance by Alexa Dirks from the next band, Chic Gamine.
Chic Gamine, a sort of funk-jazz, vintage-soul group of four ladies and their male drummer, were representing for the women of Manitoba. These ladies can sing. I mean, they can really, really sing. They can sing in French, and they can sing in English. They can sing in a box, and they can sing with a fox… You get the picture. The Juno-Award winners opened their set with “Days And Days,” a track that was the perfect introduction to their beautiful four-part harmonies. The compact five-song set still allowed each singer to take a lead vocal in at least one song, proving that the whole really is equal to the sum of its parts.
You know you’re in a room full of Canadians when almost everyone in the room gets thanked personally. Thanks to the bartender and thanks to Howard the sound man, and thanks to Manitoba Music, and hey, thanks to that lady over there in the Jets jersey, and thanks to that man over there for just being alive! For me, it was a nice dose of familiarity in a city that can sometimes be unforgiving—a reminder that New York is the city I live in and that Winnipeg is my home. For everyone else, it was just a solid night of music that only cost five bucks. Win-win!