CMW 2013: The Balconies @ Lee's Palace by Adam Bunch

THURSDAY — You can see them getting bigger right in front of your eyes. The first time we listened to The Balconies was only four years ago, but it seems like a completely different age. They were still living in Ottawa back then, about to move to Toronto. Frontwoman Jacquie Neville was splitting her time with another band, Jetplanes Of Abraham. In The Balconies, she was splitting her lead vocals with her brother, bassist Stephen Neville. They had had never made a professional recording. Never made a professional video: their best stuff on YouTube was a low-quality live version of "Serious Bedtime" and them playing "Tiger" at home in a bedroom.

But it was already clear they had the potential to be huge. The first time we ever saw their raw, passionate live show, our editor Cody McGraw reviewed it for our old magazine, SoundProof. "To say this band is a beast on stage is a dramatic understatement," he wrote. "Excuse me if I'm gushing, but I think I found a new favourite live band."

Today, they're signed to a major label. Their songs are more polished and radio-friendly. "Serious Bedtime" is called "Do It In The Dark" now. They've got a fancy new professional video for it.  "Tiger" got polished up and released last year. They've added an extra guitar by moving former drummer Liam Jaeger over and adding a fourth member. At Lee's last night, Jacquie sang lead on every song they performed. The first half of their set was made up entirely of new material. Their sound is bigger, slicker than when we first heard them; the classic rock influence is more obvious than ever.

People like to poke fun at indie music fans for being disappointed when their favourite bands become popular. But sometimes there's more to it than just selfishly wanting your favourite musicians to be a secret that only you know about. Every band changes over time, of course, but there are real, concrete pressures involved in getting signed to a major label, in accepting their suggestions, in making a genuine effort to reach a much wider audience. It's natural for your sound to change and for some of the die-hard fans of your old sound to be disappointed. It's a nerve-wracking experience, watching one of your very favourite things turn into something different. And while it's too early to tell what's going to happen with The Balconies — not to mention that their association with Warner still hasn't saved them from having to crowd-source funding for their first full-length album with them — hearing their new material during this year's Canadian Music Week was still a bit of a bittersweet moment.

But some things may never change. The set The Balconies played on Thursday night was a blistering, full-throttle performance, full of energy and hooks and guitar licks, just like their shows have always been. Jacquie leaped and strutted and lunged across the stage, shredding away at her guitar, thrusting her hips, delivering the same "colourful facial expressions and crazy hair shakes" that Cody wrote about back in that ancient history of three Canadian Music Weeks ago. The crowd — which packed the room from the lip of the stage all the way back to the bar — was enthralled. There were plenty of people who left Lee's last night just as impressed as we were when we first saw The Balconies at the Horseshoe. You could see it written all over their faces — elated smiles as they grabbed a beer before the next band came on, or headed back out into the cold, wintry air of Bloor Street.

The next day, The Balconies got on a plane headed for Denmark — the first stop on their first ever European tour. Their memeorable live show will win them plenty of new fans over there. And when they get back, we'll be here, waiting to see what comes next.

MP3: "Kill Count" by The Balconies


Find all of our coverage of Canadian Music Week 2013 here

Photos by Carmen Cheung.

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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