Show Review: Up a Creek With Royal Canoe

The progression of popular music, or the lack of, has been a topic hotly debated on the CBC Radio 3 blog, and at N2D central as well. We're of the opinion that either through nature or nurture, our brains expect and desire certain conventions in music (the resolution, the major and minor modes, the 4/4 time signature, for example), and as long as music is held hostage by these structures (and the listeners that demand it), it leaves few places for composers of popular music to go.

That's why, as predicted, Winnipeg's Royal Canoe did indeed blow our minds at their show on May 12 at the Majestic's Garden Bowl in Detroit, for their ability to beautifully straddle (or paddle, as the case may be), the line between adventurous music and music that is eminently satisfying to both the ear and the brain. Founder Matt Peters (vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar) and the rest of the band-- Matt Schellenberg (vocals, keyboards), Bucky Driedger (vocals, electric guitar, percussion), Brendan Berg (vocals, bass, keyboards) and drummers Derek Allard and Michael Jordon (on both conventional and electronic drums)-- all came from other groups, but Royal Canoe "is our baby," says Driedger.

If you guessed that vocals play a significant role, you'd be right, from Schellenberg's angelic Vienna Boys Choir falsetto to Peters' tenor, but they're used more as additional instruments instead of the usual simple harmony. Songs on their (oddly unimaginatively-named) EP, Extended Play come with five beats to a measure, and even 15; it's a tribute to their talent (and their collective skill at hitting all the complicated rhythms) that such time signatures feel completely natural and never forced. That's the best part about Royal Canoe: they're writing and performing progressive music that appeals to our Pavlovian brains, like putting zucchini in brownies, or applesauce in chocolate cake. And the captivated crowd at the Garden Bowl ate it up, demanding an encore: the lovely "Dear June" from the first Royal Canoe incarnation, Co-Op Mode.   

Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images