It’s Thursday night, and Gerts is buzzing with the low, steady hum of chatter and laughter. It’s not packed with bar-goers, but the crowd that has congregated this evening is laid back and relaxed, made up of a dozen or so small groups of friends huddled over beers. As host to the last Thursdays (A)Live show of the school year—the monthly music showcase organized by McGill’s radio station CKUT—Gerts is the ideal setting for the night’s batch of musicians, all of whom are Montreal-based solo-artists.
The first act, Desert Bloom, is the solo project of Rachel Nam, the bassist of the band MagicPerm. As the first musician to kick off the night, nervousness was to be expected—but if she was nervou, it didn’t show. Her music was soft and pleasant, a tad unremarkable, and steeped in synthesizers. Impressively, she inspired some audience members sitting closer to the stage to stand up and sway along. At the end of the set, she received a chorus of cheers; clearly, she was among friends and fans.
Next up was Joy Scouts. Her voice, like her predecessor’s, was light and gentle and her performance was decidedly stripped down in comparison to some of her mixed tracks on SoundCloud, the likes of which feature sounds that seem lifted from an 8-bit video game. She kept it simple: Just a girl and a guitar. It was a choice that proved to be effective. Her dressed-down, slightly awkward stage persona was both disarming and endearing alongside her sharp, self-aware lyrics. At the moment, she only has two tracks on her SoundCloud, which is a shame. At this point in the evening, more bar patrons appeared to be warming up to the music, as three pulled up chairs to get closer.
Third on the list was “bedroom pop” electro-folk act Lonely Boa, made up of fourth-year McGill student Parker Benley and, bizarrely, his “bandmate,” a decapitated mannequin head named Jess. Armed with a laptop, a microphone, and a bass guitar, he kept in the soft-core vein of both previous acts, using pulsing beats and electronic organs to undercut semi-melodic, somber crooning. All the while, Jess gazed out at the crowd atop a speaker, echoing Parker constructed nonchalance. Although his music lacked definitive shape and direction, it was undeniably creative, though upon leaving the stage he did momentarily forget Jess (so much for band camaraderie).
The final act of the evening was Sun Astronauts, a last-minute addition to the lineup, headed by Janice Ngiam (or “Janice Oglandia St Horsington the Third” on her SoundCloud). The history of Janice and Sun Astronauts goes back a few years, with the release of her three-song EP A Little Little in 2011. The titular single of that EP, as it would happen, was a hit in Hong Kong and since then, she has opened for Australian band The Jezabels and Spanish singer-songwriter Russian Red. More recently, she joined The Bollands on tour in China in 2014 and the US last year. With all that under her belt, it comes as no surprise that she was the most confident and self-assured performer, singing with a kind of roughness that translated into soulfulness. Janice used loops to mask the absence of a backup band, and it worked: She filled up the whole space with her sound, and by her last song, a handful of her more attentive listeners were full-on dancing unselfconsciously.
Indeed, Thursday was alive and well at Gerts. Unfortunately, the music will rest until next semester, when local artists will once again return to grace Gerts with their (much appreciated) presence.