L’Escogriffe is loosely defined as a lanky man of great stature and odd proportions. It is also the name of a well-known venue catering to Montreal’s local live music scene. Located on Saint-Denis just south of Mont-Royal Street, this popular and cozy bar was my destination as I headed out to review a friend’s set and to discover something new.
Alex Robshaw, the songwriter and entertainer who sold me an Alex Robshaw-branded condom (support the artists!) can get a full room to scream loudly while sitting behind her keyboard, playing songs torn from memory and hope. Wearing a black and glittery dress, Alex began the night’s events with “Favorite Kind of Slave,” a song that showcased her powerful pipes. Although sitting, she was very animated during the tune; she really put herself out there, connecting with the crowd and entertaining those within reach. Her second song “Apple Seeds” showcased her ability to sing with power in the high range, delivering notes that sent shivers up my spine. You can tell she means every note she sings, and although quite strong, her voice also lets up for some quieter moments. “Of the Carrion” was next, and it was packed with themes of despair. Indeed, the song frequently lingered on the verge of collapse, while Alex pushed forward telling a tale we’ve all known. Her next number was a cover of the great Nine Inch Nails. “Big Man with a Gun” was a short song, introduced by Robshaw apologizing to her mother (who was in attendance) for she was to use the words DICK and FUCK. This got a round of laughs from the audience, and is part of Alex’s charm. Having recently gone through some heartache, she began “The Sound of Nothing” by telling the audience how much it meant for her to sing it to us that night. Next was “Puer Aeternus,” and brought the mood back to a more feel-good vibe. It was followed by Alex singing while playing a hand drum for the intro of “No Sun of Mine,” a ballad that ended with the longest-sung note I’ve heard live in a while, and was met with a loud response from the crowd. “Face up” was introduced as a “sexy one;” I could tell Alex was having fun on stage. Next was “Sugar,” which had a quicker pace than the others and made me notice how much confidence Ms. Robshaw has as a singer and entertainer. It was to be her last song, but the crowd urged for more, and after getting approval from the following band, she ended her set with “Dollhouse.” Alex Robshaw is a fantastic singer who puts on a great show. I just wish I could see her play with a band, and occasionally venture farther away from the land of the ballad.
Next up was White Canvas Sky, a group comprised of Steve Burgess on vocals and acoustic guitar, Gideon Yellin on electric guitar, Andrew Mullahoo on bass, and Bob Grierson on drums. They began with “We are Wild,” a groovy tune that told me we were going to be hearing some good rock during their set. Gideon is a passionate guitar player: he seemed to wear his guitar solo face throughout most of the song (and set). “No President” followed, delivering a politically charged message with a Latin flavor. Halfway through, the song changed direction and made way for Gideon’s guitar shredding skills. Next was “Happy Trails,” a song that used jazzy chords and unveiled some great lyrical metaphors from Steve. During “Sorting out the Gems” I noticed that Andrew and Bob were locked in the groove, feeling the music the way good bassists and drummers do. We were to experience “Altered States of Mind,” said the frontman, and with a delicate guitar intro they started the song that brought the emotion in Steve’s voice to the forefront of the music. “Mindspent” followed with a very groovy beat and some awesome singing from Steve. I always appreciate great songwriting, and White Canvas Sky delivered just that with “Weather Man,” a driving song that had great imagery in the lyrics and was a blast to hear live. “Lessons Alone” began with an eerie lullaby-like intro, then picked up speed with fast-paced lyrics conveying a sense of freneticism, and ended with a buildup of energy that gave way to silence. Finger-style guitar opened the next song, “Our Fellow Man,” with a general theme of moving on from past shittiness. It was a ballad that contrasted nicely with the previous songs. The band then injected a dose of ska into the night as they lay into “Frantic,” a tune that had tons of rumbling bass tones, fast paced lyrics, and that brought out all of the energy from the band and the audience. White Canvas Sky ended their set with “Friends with Benefits,” a tune that used jazzy chords, interesting chord changes, and varied arrangements that were original and catchy. It’s always fun to stumble onto a good band and I’ll be keeping an eye on White Canvas Sky for their next move.
Written by Dave Tone
*edited by Kate Erickson