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Young artists give Red Deer a solid show

It’s hard to hold your own against a zany “zombie” hip-hop artist called Kevvy Mental, who fancies himself to be a Britney Spears look-alike, and a female firebrand with a Christina Aguilera voice.

That was Matt Webb’s unenviable predicament on Sunday night, when a triple-bill of Vancouver acts entertained a small audience of teenyboppers, adolescents and a few parents at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.

Webb, best known as lead guitarist for Marianas Trench, came to town as a solo artist with his own three-piece back-up band. He performed songs from his two solo recordings after charismatic opening acts Fake Shark-Real Zombie! and Jessica Lee.

Both proved to be hard acts to follow — particularly for a headliner who’s a clean-cut, reticent kind of guy like Webb, and maybe isn’t used to stepping around his guitar to seize the limelight.

The singer/songwriter/guitarist has a lot going for him, including his multiple talents and heart-throb looks that kept young girls riveted to the front of the stage. He just didn’t seem to know how to fully work his assets in Red Deer.

Webb performed 13 original pop tunes while standing directly behind the centre stage mic with his guitar, having minimal interaction with the audience or fellow band members.

While his set list could have benefitted from more varied tempos, there were standout songs, such as 1,2,3 Don’t Turn Your Back, and Cinnamon. The latter featured a great guitar solo and three duelling guitarists, including a smiling Webb, who showed us he was finally in his comfort zone.

A local girl called Gillian was invited on stage to play some air piano during Don’t Turn Your Back, which offered catchy lyrical hooks, as did Bad Girl. And Webb got the crowd clapping along on Runaway.

But the energy level went up when Kevvy (Mental) Maher came out to sing a duet with Webb on Heartbreakers.

Maher, who shouted out to the crowd and waved his arm in the air, produced Webb’s last four-song EP, Right Direction, even though its mainsteam pop sensibility is completely different than Maher’s own idiosyncratic sound.

The difference between their styles only seemed to highlight Webb’s need to up his stage presence, whether this means a more dynamic song delivery or venturing downstage to reach out to fans.

There was no audience demand for an encore, but it’s all a learning experience when you’re so young.

Fake Shark-Real Zombie! was hugely entertaining, whether you could get into Maher’s “freak-pop,” with hip-hop and punk elements and falsetto beat boxing that verged on Yoko Ono-like performance art.

Maher majored in drama and visual art while at college and both have clearly influenced his music. Some of the best songs were the wackiest — including F--k Kevvy, a hilarious send-up of iPhone and hater culture with its lyrics of “you got something to say, say it on the telephone.”

The four-man group also performed Girls, Perfume (“While I might look like Britney Spears, it’s not (her) song,” quipped Maher, flipping his long blond hair), and Paint It Gold — a melodious single that did well on CBC Radio 3.

While Fake Shark-Real Zombie!’s sound is all over the map, it left us wanting more.

Lee’s opening set showcased her powerhouse vocals — and her wit. Noting that she wrote a song coincidentally titled the same as Miley Cyrus’s megahit Wrecking Ball, Lee said she would perform her tune “fully clothed.”

The singer was discovered through a YouTube contest, winning the chance to sing with Marianas Trench in Toronto. She was all set to continue pre-med studies at Ottawa University until she got a call from 604 Records and decided to follow her musical muse instead.

Among the tunes she performed with a band in Red Deer were Twisted Game and Save Your Breath, which featured a decent audience sing-along.

Lee constantly worked the crowd, taking close-up selfies on stage with fans’ iPhones and singing about female empowerment — or as she put it: “Girls who’ve been hurt by a stupid boy and then realize how much better off they are without said boy.”

It certainly helps to know your audience, and Lee was “besties” with hers.

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