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Polaris 2011: Gala goings-on

· by Tab S.

And it's all over for another year… except for yet more listening to the great albums nominated for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. Congratulations to our 2011 Polaris winners, Montreal's Arcade Fire!

If you missed the gala last night, never fear: there are plenty of ways to catch (or re-live) the incredible live performances from nominees Ron Sexsmith, Austra, Galaxie, Timber Timbre, Braids, and Hey Rosetta!, not to mention the amusing repartee between the night's co-hosts, CBC Radio 3's Grant Lawrence and MuchMusic's Damian Abraham (frontman for 2009 Polaris winners Fucked Up).

CBC Radio 3 has packaged the highlights from last night's show into a convenient podcast, and they also have some great photos and video from the event. MuchMusic has the television broadcast this Saturday, Sept. 24 at 10 pm EST, but you can also watch clips from last night on MuchMusic's special Polaris microsite right now.

Given that we had the advantage of being on hand at the Masonic Temple last night, the Polaris blog seemed like the ideal place to share some insider info – by offering up a bird's-eye view of some of the more memorable moments from the big show, as well as some behind-the-scenes bits from the post-show press conference.

The Polaris Gala 2011 Tongue-in-Cheek Awards:

Best-dressed: We'd have to call it a tie (pun intended?) – it was hard to say whether co-hosts Grant Lawrence (it's hard to pull off an off-white suit, but he wore it with aplomb) or Damian Abraham (who cleaned up so nicely that he looked more like a banker than a punk rocker in his sleek dark ensemble and striped tie) looked more dapper last night. Special mention also to Polaris founder Steve Jordan, always keeping it classy – accessorizing his formal Man-in-Black suit with a royal purple satin bowtie was a nice touch.

Worst-dressed: That distinction would have to go to Grant Lawrence – before he changed into his suit, that is. Off the top of the show, Lawrence appeared in a baggy orange t-shirt, a microphone wrapped around his neck, and fake blood dripping off his forehead – luckily, that wasn't the CBC Radio 3 host's gala look – it was just his way of having a little fun at his sidekick's expense, given that the Fucked Up singer is known for keeping things way casual (to the point of often smashing things on his bare head).

Most volume: Montreal rockers Galaxie definitely brought the noise, sending even the battle-hardened music critics in the balcony rummaging in bags and pockets for a pair of earplugs.

Best backup singers: Not only do Austra's backing singers Romy and Sari Lightman manage to match their frontwoman's dynamic vocals, but they're twins to boot! Montreal's Galaxie were not to be outdone, however, bringing along two female vocalists who somehow managed to make playing the shaker look sexy.

Most otherworldly vocals: Both the operatically-trained Katie Stelmanis (Austra's lead singer) and Braids' Raphaelle Standell-Preston showed off some pretty impressive pipes during their respective sets. Stelmanis wove a Gothic spell with her spooky soprano, while Standell-Preston's Bjork-esque yelps gilded Braids' complex melodies like fine glitter.

Oddest intro: We won't repeat it here, because it's perhaps best experienced for yourself, but CBC Radio 3 host Vish Khanna's introduction of Braids was definitely one of the most bizarre in Polaris history. Only he really knows whether it was meant to be funny or just plain confounding, but one thing's for sure: it certainly raised eyebrows.

Biggest ‘oops': Seemed to be quite the night for Khanna, who went on to somehow crack the frame on Arcade Fire's poster artwork (much to the bemusement of the band members themselves, it seemed).

Best pairing of performer and venue: Timber Timbre's ominous creepy-movie vibe somehow seemed the perfect match for the somewhat intimidating confines of the stately Masonic Temple.

Biggest applause for a gala performer: By far, Timber Timbre seemed to have the crowd firmly on their side with their assured, cinematic two-song set.

Best “I Spyâ€: “Oh, hey, look – isn't that Dave from Moxy Fruvous playing with Ron Sexsmith? And the Tasseomancy duo is in Austra! Whoa, check out Timber Timbre's string quartet, featuring members of Ohbijou!â€

Most predictable no-show: R&B superstar The Weeknd clearly decided to maintain his ongoing air of mystery – though given that he's now started giving live performances, perhaps a turn on the Polaris stage might've helped add to his growing profile?

Best guest turn by international rockstars: Host Grant Lawrence pointed out that legendary Scottish band Teenage Fanclub was in the house.

Best food-fight redux: Members of Arcade Fire helped keep the now-traditional Polaris food fight alive by good-naturedly hurling things at co-host Damian Abraham (who appeared to be taking it all in stride).

Best thank-you: More performers need to take a page out of Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler's book – his brief but eloquent words following the band's introduction were a rare example of a nominee using his time on stage well. Memo to future nominees: we know Canuck musicians are a humble bunch – but less mumbling, more articulation (write it down if you need to)!

Best hoser impression by an American: Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler's plaid shirt and jean-jacket combo was as casual-Canuck as it gets.

“Aw†moment #1: After quieting even the most blasé of critics with her powerful vocal range, Braids' Raphaelle Standell-Preston managed no more than a nervous girlish gush upon accepting the band's commemorative art poster: “We nearly dropped to the floor when we heard we were nominated,†she said, wide-eyed.

“Aw†moment #2: Following Braids' set, Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry made a point of reaching across his table to congratulate the young band on their performance. The starstruck look on their faces was adorable, but the gesture also underscored how Polaris brings together the wide scope of the Canadian music scene under one roof.

“Aw†moment #3: Upon accepting the $30,000 prize at the end of the night, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler took a moment to give a shout-out to the kids: “I just want to say to anyone who's under 18 and playing music… I just want to come back here in ten years and have some band make a record that's even better than our record – so just go for it.â€

Quote, unquote: Notes from the post-show

Following their brief press conference in the ultra-menacing ‘inner chamber' of the Masonic Temple (the room where the Grand Jury is sequestered to deliberate each year), we caught up with Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara and Richard Reed Parry to ask about their overall impressions of the Polaris Prize.

Richard Reed Parry: It's so important that someone is trying to do an independent, free-form award that seems to be focused on the albums and the artists themselves.

Jeremy Gara: It does seem to acknowledge a sense of community and all types of music. It's not just about one thing or another. We feel really proud to be a part of it.

From the press conference:

Arcade Fire, on what they'll do with the $30,000 prize money:

Win Butler: We hadn't really thought about it much, because we didn't expect to win, and it just hasn't been on the tip of our brains… We started a studio outside of Montreal after our first record, and when we're not there, we've been letting other bands record there for cheap. It's important in a music scene to have a place where people can record [in a professional setting]…

On the Mercury Prize, the UK award that inspired the Polaris:

WB: [deadpan, referring to former Mercury winner Antony & the Johnsons] The industry is always looking for a chance to award cross-dressing opera singers…

On the strangely Gothic room where the press conference was being held:

WB: It's super-weird that we're in a Masonic temple right now. I don't know if you guys have read the Da Vinci Code, but…

On the Polaris Prize itself:

JG: When the Long List comes out, there are 40 names, and you know a lot of these people; you see the breadth of Canadian music.

WB: We kind of know a lot of people here [mentions Austra, Colin Stetson, Destroyer, Fucked Up]… In that sense, it feels like we're in less of a foreign world.

RRP: It feels like this award is about, ‘Let's pick a bunch of people doing interesting things…' So that's a nice part of it.

And just before we let him off the hook to finally relax and enjoy the evening, we cornered gala emcee Grant Lawrence to get his thoughts on the yin-yang experience of co-hosting with Damian Abraham for the first time:

Grant Lawrence: It was a lot of fun – the great thing about working with Damian is that he's willing to do anything and go anywhere. Sometimes it's good to take chances and just go for it. I mean, I have more inhibitions than him – he wanted me to take off my shirt, but he got me there – I wasn't going to go that far. But he isn't afraid of anything, which is amazing. I'm hoping we'll do it all again next year.

And that's a wrap on the gala for another year, folks. But don't forget to keep an eye on the blog for ongoing news and features from the world of the Polaris Prize. After all, we're already thinking about next year – the great records just keep on coming!

This website is made possible with the support of Ontario Creates.

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