The ALL CAPS! Island Show (feat. We Take Lovers, Adam and the Amethysts, Snowblink, Carmen Elle, Ghostlight)
Artscape Gibraltar Point. Saturday, October 17, 2009.
I'm a bit of a sucker for all-day shows, so the prospect of heading out to the Island to see this ALL CAPS/Wavelength-curated event was a pretty appealing one. The original summer date was postponed due to the civic strike, pushing a summer event into the autumn. All things told, I think that worked out for the better. In fact, the prospect of actually going to the show, making that trip to — and across — the island was actually almost as appealing as the show itself. All the more so as it turned out to be a fairly delightful day.
With ferry departures down to an off-season hourly pace, it did mean a bit more advance planning was required. I managed to catch the 2:30 trip and found myself a space at Ongiara's railing and sort of pleasantly blanked out — at one with the waves, dude, at one with the waves — as we slid across to the Ward's Island dock. The event's organizers had thoughtfully arranged for a shuttle service, but there was no way I was going to let myself be cooped up in a motor vehicle under such ideal conditions, and I had a most pleasant walk over. Once I was past the smallish crowd dispersing from the ferry, there was a sense of splendid isolation — a few people passing here and there, but mostly just quiet fall splendour and a faint rustle of the wind through the changing-colour leaves. It's hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, could be this much fun.
Past Algonquin island, a few residents out and about; past the small knots of frisbee golf players; past the empty grand Avenue of the Islands, its optimistic spirit-of-'67 concrete planters stripped clean for the year; past the Centre Island beach, now cordoned off with snow fences. And, leading me on, a series of hand-lettered cardboard signs and chalked-on road signs.
About a forty-five minute walk, when you add in all the photo breaks and shilly-shallying and I was at the destination — Artscape Gibraltar Point, an artists' retreat located in the Island's old elementary school. Making my way in, there was an immediate feeling of warmth — the building still felt like a happy schoolhouse, and layered on top of that the convivial occupation of art, with paintings and photos and sculptures everywhere throughout the building.1 The event itself was a fundraiser for the Centre, in need of some roof repairs.
As it turned out, my timing was excellent, as I just had a couple minutes to amble into the Fireplace room, settle in and find my bearings. The large rectangular room — which served as the school's lunch room in is former incarnation — indeed had a fireplace in one of its short walls, and some couches clustered in one corner. There were plenty of institutional touches that gave the room a nostalgic feel — little bursts like, "oh yes, lights used to look like that all the time — I'd sorta forgotten" and so on. The bands were set up in the middle of the long, window-covered south wall, underneath a painting of an island beach in winter — a scene that could be found just a stone's throw away.
There was a smallish crowd on hand around the fringes of the room as Georgia Webber — who handled MC duties all day — mixed in "local colour" and tales remembered from her own school days in this very same building, smartly-chosen so as to resonate with each bands' themes or sound. Local combo We Take Lovers was up first, six members deep — two guits, two keybs — playing pop/rock with alternating boy-girl vox. Generally likeable and with a nice stash of songs, the band at first hewed to a fairly straightforward sound. "Evil" threw a bit of a curveball into the proceedings, tossing a hint of rockabilly twang into the mix. "Two by Two" was probably the ace of the bunch, with a rock-solid undercarriage from the rhythm section. A wayward keyboard cable (and lack of banter) caused a bit of a lurch and sucked some of their momentum away as they tackled their last song, but a generally likable set on the whole.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Adam and the Amethysts were playing as a duo on this day, Adam Waito on guit and vox accompanied by cellist Rebecca Lessard as the sole violet quartz in attendance. I was familiar with the band only by name, and often in the context of people mentioning Waito's sideman duties in Miracle Fortress. In this case, the stripped-down package was a nice showcase for his well-crafted tunes and engaging presence — operating more on hunches rather than his prepared setlist, Waito was chatty in between songs while changing his tunings and conferring with Lessard on what to play next. Several of the songs were quiet and contemplative, but the energy picked up with the "Running Scared" cadences of "Bumble Bee" as well as when Waito started into another song before stopping to solicit a drummer from the crowd. Jonny Dovercourt was up for the challenge and threw down a credible snare beat that perked things up. Worthy of further investigation.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Before their set, Snowblink's Daniela Gesundheit had been circulating around the room, tying bells on strings to posts and table legs. And although their patented "Shh..." sign was in place on an amp, it was hardly necessary on this day as the duo started their set, the mostly-seated crowd maintaining reverent silence throughout. There may be better places to experience the gorgeousness of "Rut and Nuzzle", but in a warm and cozy ex-schoolhouse cafeteria on an island on a fall day is right up there. With the set building strength, that perennial standout may have been bested by "The Tired Bees". Having seen the band a couple times in the past few months already, it's always interesting to see if that magical moment of the first time's surprise can be maintained. There were a couple technical flaws during the band's set, and although the setting was well-nigh perfect I think I can say I've heard them sound better. But they managed to keep the set from veering to the too-expected with a couple covers, including a spare, dread-filled "Jolene" and a run through Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" that actually managed to strip away all of the kitsch that had my mind had encrusted around the sixth-best track from Thriller, the centre of it building up to a cloud of looped vocals. Ultimately, the band did manage to conjure up some of their magic and pulled off a fine set.
Between sets, I'd taken some time to wander up and down the hallways and soak in the atmosphere of the building a little more. In the Beacon Room, where the food and beverages were being served, a video installation of rustic national park scenes was installed, and up and down the halls a few of the artists were on hand in their studios to give people more of a sense what the whole place was about. What with the nice, quick turnovers between bands — and, mercy me, that's always an enjoyable bonus — there wasn't even time to soak it all in at once. During one break, I spent a few minutes in the City View room's classroom installation, a restored simulacrum of the building's former function locked in time. After Snowblink's set, I was wandering east wing when I was waved into one of the studios and ended up meeting Katherine Dolgy Ludwig, whose studio was filled with large-sized paintings of buildings and words and movement. I commented how they looked like cities and music and we ended up having a totally fascinating conversation about her work. Amongst her many projects, she is something of a live action painter, and has worked with a lot of notable jazz musicians, such as Ornette Coleman, capturing them in the act of creating their art. We talked about music and improvisation and art, and it was a totally unexpected delight, possibly even the high point of the day.
Sadly, getting caught up in conversation meant that I ended up missing nearly the entirety of Carmen Elle's set. Which I regret, as she was definitely one of the musicians I was looking forward to finally hearing, and the little bit I caught — and that was only about the last half of the last song — sounded good, enough to make me wish I'd seen more. On the list of acts to catch soon.
After that, it was jackets on and head outside to witness Ghostlight, playing at the base of the haunted Gibraltar Point lighthouse. The path through the bracken was lit with a trail of tealights, and noise generators secreted in the bushes gave off slightly menacing noises as the crowd straggled out. The set's timing was quite well-arranged so that it was coming on twilight as the band started and pretty much dark by the time they finished. Ghostlight bill themselves as a "massive, open-ended improvisational psych-rock ensemble", with a large roster of contributors listed on their myspace. On this night they were five, a drummer at the lighthouse's door flanked by a pair of guitarists, an electronics manipulator by them, and one more guitar on the opposite side of the clearing.2 This layout created a massively wide stereo field and an immersive sonic experience. The band played an abrasive improvised piece, worthy indeed of invoking the spirits said to haunt this spot. After a churning spell led by the guitars, the electronics player walked out to the middle of the clearing and placed what looked like a small speaker almost at my feet. It emitted a low-frequency white noise that added another layer to the proccedings. Then the guitar player to my right, opposite of the lighthouse, left his amp generating a droning fuzzy rumble, while he wandered around through the crowd playing saxophone. To have been in the middle of all this noise with the lighthouse looming above and the day's last light draining away made for a pretty fabulous time. Musically it might not have been the most innovative bit of work, but that it worked so well in this space testified to the intelligence of the players' choices. The band played for twenty-five minutes, and then the crowd made their way back inside.
Listen to an excerpt from this performance here.
Part two, and the rest of the day's bands, can be found here.
1 Even the bathrooms — or at least the men's — were nicely turned out, with mounted photos above the urinals and paintings on the walls.
2 Busily soaking up the atmosphere and grooving on the noise, I was inadequately observant to have noted who any of the players were, so pardon my lack of clarifying details here. Name names if you know 'em, and we can give credit where due.