Having started in 2014, MRCY Fest is a relatively new festival that is growing rapidly. This year, the festival took place on September 26th and saw eleven artists of various different genres, including Grammy-nominated headliner, The Alabama Shakes. The day was filled with well-spoken performances and strong talent that the masses are not soon to forget.
New York indie-pop band Mister Wives was first to take the stage with their out-of-the-box performance. Though they started off with a modest, somewhat shy stage presence, their expert cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” pleased the audience, and had the entire band looking more confident. Midway through their cover they had some technical difficulties, but lead singer Mandy Lee handled it as if it was nothing and the show went on. Before finishing their set, Lee showcased her drumming talents for a couple of songs, while showing off a broad vocal range, sounding like a cross between Ellie Goulding and Florence Welch. All this aside, their set wasn’t all fun and games; they had one short segment that was politically charged. Lee removed her jacket and got down on her knees, confusing the audience. She then started to do push-ups on the stage, while yelling into the microphone, “Do you ever feel like society’s standards for women, and for men, are complete and utter bullshit? Well, it is up to us to change that.”
After a completely underwhelming performance by DJ Lary Kidd, francophone folk duo, Safia Nolin charmed the growing audience with her soothing set. Right up until the very end, Nolan appeared shy and giggly whenever she addressed the audience, but her voice was one of the most powerful heard that day. Her set included a “Happy Birthday” to her bandmate, Joseph, as well as a performance of her Christmas song, “Noël Partout.” Alaclair Ensemble was the polar opposite of Safia Nolin. They were hyper, never staying still on the stage, and their performance was loud and out of the ordinary. They entered the stage to the sound of the 20th Century Fox tune, and played a mock-Canadian national anthem towards the end of their set. The base was so heavy that the ground shook, and reactions to the band ranged from enjoyment to utter and complete annoyance.
Completely stealing the show, July Talk had by far the most memorable act of the fest, as it was talked about amongst the audience for the entire day. When they skipped onto the stage, in front of hundreds of anticipatory faces, Peter Dreimanis stood there with a tough and confident stance, attitude seeping into every word. They got the crowd riled up with their song “Blood & Honey,” showcasing the unique mix of Dreimanis’ rough voice with Leah Fay’s soft vocals. The two of them danced around playfully and suggestively on the stage, with Dreimanis going as far as wrapping his mouth around Fay’s elbow and microphone, and Fay yanking at his open shirt. With the crowd never ceasing their cheers, the two of them thanked the audience and dove straight into an energetic performance of their latest hit song, “Summer Dress,” a song that Dreimanis described a song about “alcohol and regret.”
Their most theatrical performance of the day was that of their song “Gentlemen,” which Dreimanis described as “a song about shitty men, men who can’t handle a strong woman so they push them down cause they’re weak.” Keeping their attention, Fay then apologized for her bad French (which really wasn’t bad at all) and asked the crowd, in French, if they’d like to sing. Clearly, the crowd did want to sing, as the entire audience sang along to “Guns and Ammunition,” from the first word to the last. The rest of the set saw Fay getting off the stage and interacting with crowd members, even going as far as wearing peoples’ hats and taking a few beers. They played a few songs off of their upcoming album, and Dreimanis encouraged the crowd to boo the songs they didn’t like so that they wouldn’t record them on the album. “Laval will decide our new album”, he joked. As they finished up with their song, “The Garden,” Fay entertained the audience by seductively playing with the security guard’s hair. The band was the very incarnation of sex, alcohol, and rock & roll, and is definitely a band that everyone should see live at some point.
Welsh band, The Joy Formidable, delivered a set that was simultaneously tame and kick-ass. Ritzy Brian entertained the audience with her sarcastic brand of humour and unique vocals. She knew how to utilise the power of a stage, moving around every corner and playing with the drum kit when the crowd got quiet. She impressively shredded on her guitar the whole time, and had the entire audience becoming fans with their stunning performance of “Wolf’s Law,” one of their hit songs.
Alternative rock group Kodaline’s performance was tamer, and mellower, but had fans dancing and swaying to the beat for the entire set. They were followed by rapper A$AP Ferg who turned the audience into clubbers with his base-heavy multimedia performance. Diverse indie-rock band Local Natives wowed the crowd next with their dynamic and harmonic performance. Finishing up on the Scène des Mille-Îles, Mac Millar gave the best rap performance of the entire festival.
Everyone in the large crowd filled with anticipation in the minutes leading up to Alabama Shakes’ set, as they waited under the clear and chilly night sky. When the time finally arrived, Brittany Howard casually walked onto the stage with her groovy guitar, and jumped straight into a performance of “Future People.” Her voice was as powerful as ever, with soul filtering through the air with every note. Her dance moves were as groovy as her riffs, and the audience really couldn’t get enough of her. She was accompanied by a few back-up singers, whose voices harmonized perfectly with hers. As soon as they began to play the opening chords of their hit song “Hold On,” the audience let out the loudest of screams and got ready to sing along, much to the pleasure of Howard. Their latest hit “Fight” was played immediately afterwards, and had a similar effect on the audience. Contrary to most artists, when the band finished playing their final song “Gemini,” Howard didn’t dramatically thank the audience, but instead sneaked away backstage, without a peep. In fact, throughout both their set and their encore, Howard hardly ever addressed the audience, except to say “thank you” every now and again and to introduce her band members. It was a basic, simple, stripped-down performance, with nothing flashy at all, but Howard kept the audience hooked to her every word with her voice and her moves. When the band returned for their encore, they performed “Sound & Colour,” “You Ain’t Alone,” and “Over my Head” before calling it a night.
MRCY Fest is sure to get even bigger next year, when word gets around that no one wanted it to end this year. Perhaps it should be more than a day long in the future.
Written by Franca G. Mignacca
Photography by Courtney O’Hearn
*edited by Kate Erickson