"What can I say? He missed a good show."
Steve Jordan, the guy who runs the Polaris Music Prize, was asked at the post-gala press conference about Drake, the rap artist who was fickle and diva-like on Monday evening, vacillating between attending the award ceremony (which saw the trophy and $30,000 go to the indie-pop queen Feist) and not bothering to appear. Apparently Drake's mixed signals caused uneasiness among the event's organizers, who were forced to juggle the night's itinerary on the fly as the hometown hip-hopper kept them guessing all night long.
As Jordan's remark indicated, Toronto's Drake (known in Polaris circles as the "poet laureate of the bottle-service VIP section" for his graceful, self-pitying rhyme flow) failed to make it to the often inspiring affair, held at the Masonic Temple.
At the same press conference, Leslie Feist, the artful, Calgary-raised, Toronto-based singer/songwriter, spoke of the appeal of the Polaris award, as compared to the Junos, Brits and Grammys she's won or flirted with previously. The 36-year-old artist described the prize for the year's best Canadian album (as determined by a national panel of music journalists and programmers) as quaint and real and more potent for its smallness.
Feist also used the word "dignified," an adjective that should be applied to her album, Metals, a sublime, cozy and cool-headed reaction to the hype and hoopla of her previous record, the breakthrough The Reminder from 2007.
In talking about Polaris as an intimate award, Feist drew comparisons to her winning Metals, a deeply focused record rich and elegant with its nuances, poetic in its lyrics and often stylishly bluesy in its rhythm. She said she listened to music in a personal way – a conversation between listener and musicians – and that she sensed, while taking in a ceremony that included live performances by many of the nominated artists and passionate championing of each of the 10 short-listed albums, that Polaris people had the same relationship with music as she had.
Winning the award was "like getting the Valentine from the right boy," she said.
Speaking about The Reminder (and the hit single 1234 ), Feist said the aftermath of that record's success had caused her to "unravel," and that Metals, recorded in California's Big Sur, was a reaction to her feeling "unwoven." Metals, she said, was "quiet, happier and more focused," and that it was her deliberate attempt to travel back in the direction she wished to go, "rather than pumping quarters into the wrong meter for the rest of my life."
Her astounding live performance late in the ceremony of The Bad in Each Other was a highlight that seemed to put the evening's outcome in focus. For most of the night, nobody was quite sure who would take the seventh-annual prize. After that song, it suddenly seemed unthinkable that her Metals would not win.
Even the gifted singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards (nominated for Voyageur), whose own live performance and comments afterward were affecting and profound and seemed to heighten her status, tweeted at one point that Feist "should win the prize."
The evening's emotional apex happened early, when Alexei Perry represented Handsome Furs' sharp, minimalist electro-punk album Sound Kapital. The Furs were made up of the married couple Perry and Dan Boeckner, a duo that had announced its musical breakup earlier this year. She spoke, in a shaking voice, about the guts its takes to be a career artist.
"I'm here to say thank you on behalf of Handsome Furs, for Dan and I. For letting us risk ourselves in pursuit of our ideals. It is worth it. And I'm honoured to be in a room full of other people who also take those risks. Because for me, time and time again, and especially currently, it is art and music and literature that have saved my life. So I'm honoured that you loved us and our work. Thank you for everything from the bottom of my heart."
The evening's lowlight came when MuchMusic personality Tyrone (T-rex) Edwards spoke in favour of Drake's strong Take Care album, saying that "all the songs are amazing" and that "hip hop is important again," while pondering what the headlines would say if the record became the first hip-hop album to win the Polaris.
The headlines would probably say something about Drake, the self-styled Toronto booster, not bothering to show up to accept his prize, even though he was in town. It would also probably say something about Feist (or Edwards or Perry's Handsome Furs) being more worthy of an honour that reflected their own commitment. And, yes, it would say that Drake missed a good show.
A Polaris podcast can be downloaded here.
MuchMusic broadcasts Polaris highlights on Sept.29, 10 p.m.