Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Festival: The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One)

Wavelength presents The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One) (feat. The Soupcans / Huelepega Sound System/ Krista L.L. Muir / Rick White / Dog Day / Bocce)

Artscape Gibraltar Point. Saturday, August 7, 2010.

Last year's Wavelength-abetted ALL CAPS! island show was amongst the year's best, so when it was announced that this year's version was going to be a two-day affair, I was doubly delighted. Not in the least because spreading the goodness over two days meant that the day would be less of a marathon, starting more toward the evening instead of the afternoon. And with getting back to the mainland a top concern, island shows always wrap up nice and early as well. And so, on a fairly delightful day, took the ferry out to Hanlan's and had a most pleasant stroll over to Artscape Gibraltar Point, the artists' live/work space that still feels very much like the old schoolhouse it used to be.

Working hard to keep things entertaining for patrons of all ages, there were a variety of ancillary activities besides the music, including games and a tarot card reader outside. Inside, besides open artists' studios to visit, and a room dedicated to some spoken word material, there was a pile of sports equipment available to borrow at the merch table, along with earplugs to protect young ears. And face-painting!1 Even amongst the thin early turnout, it was nice to see some familiar faces on site, and more throughout the day as things filled in. It was a likable, easy-going sort of crowd, as if being on the island gave everyone a chance to unclench a little bit.

Well, maybe for everyone except local punkrockarollers The Soupcans, leading the day off loudfastrules style. With guitar and bass and a two-piece stand-up drum kit that almost managed to overwhelm everything else, the band were out to make a snotty/tuneful racket. The vox were in the yowl and hurgh zone and way down in the mix, though I reckon they like it that way.

If these guys were the cast of a movie, they'd be space-miners in an escape pod fleeing a dying asteroid, slowly going mad, eyeing each other with unshaven, paranoid suspicion. Their feedback-y, shout-y songs were filled with a sorta jokey, almost overly-affected will to cartoon-punk nihilism and rock'n'roll rebellion — though with a knowing edge of how goofy that stance is.2 On being told they had time for one more song they "rebelled" and played two — not such a massive transgression when the songs are all under two minutes. If you like howling feedback filling the gaps between songs, this is the band for you — not reinventing any wheels, but a bracing bit of fun.

Listen to a track from this set here.

A change of direction following that, with Huelepega Sound System setting up. "Originally from Columbia and... El Salvador?" host Georgia Webber asked, looking over at the band.

"Mississauga," one said back casually.

"Well, that just got less interesting," she trailed off, though that perhaps underlines how any of us assume that mutant culture couldn't arise out of someplace we tend to think of as spectacularly unexotic. Self-described as "doombia", or more precisely, "chopped and screwed Colombia-via-Mexican cumbia", with some slowed-down vocal samples and other bits worked in with a sort of dub methodology. Here, the music started with a groovy beat, the trio working laptops and other electronics enhanced by live percussion. In keeping with the idea of being a "sound system" rather than a band, one got the idea that they were versioning existing music more than "playing", pushing them into that grey area where music is being mixed and remixed so radically that it becomes something new. The finer points of what this music "is" is mostly left to worried trainspotters — for the most part it exists to get people moving.

By which standard, this wasn't a runaway success. In this space, with bright evening daylight streaming in through the windows and a thin assortment of people paying close attention, there wasn't a dance breakout or anything. On the other hand, as another element in the environment, serving as a sonic backdrop for the folks choosing to sit out on the back lawn and wandering in and out, it fit well. I don't know anything about cumbia — or pretty much any contemporary Latin American music, really — so this was a chance to listen to something that I probably wouldn't have checked out of my own volition. Interesting stuff, and I'm glad the show included something that was really outside my normal range.

Listen to a track from this set here.

After some time to wander around and take in the surroundings — there's a particularly nice bit of beach right nearby — came back in time to hear Georgia Webber, herself a former student in this building, re-tell the story of ghostly lighthousekeeper J.P. Rademuller before turning things over to Krista L.L. Muir. The "L.L." is the remnant of the time Muir spent under the nom de guerre Lederhosen Lucil and that moniker, along with the fact that her chosen instrument is the ukulele, gives a hint of the gung-ho vaudevillian persona that she brings to stage. Her bouncy onstage demeanour would be a good framing device to keep attention on her low-key but pleasing vocals.

Playing only with the accompaniment of a bassist, Muir confessed that she was using this audience as guinea pigs as she incorporated some laptop-provided backing tracks into her set. The results were mixed. Still learning the ropes of incorporating the laptop on stage was making her slightly discombobulated — later in the set she'd confess, "I'm not used to karaoke! I'm used to real bodies."

There were some subtle charmers here, like "Concrete Love Song", but when the file with the beats for "Fruit Belt" wouldn't open, the resulting low-tech clapalong jaunt was the most fun of the set, showing that Muir was at her best when relying on her own abilities as an entertainer, engaging the audience and even throwing in some rockin' leg kicks at the end of "Drugging the Drain". The laptop problems came again at the end of the set, forcing a re-start of "Between Atoms"3 before they just gave up on the song and went out on another human-powered clapalong, this one en français. All things considered, I probably enjoyed the set more when realworld indeterminacy supplanted the carefully constructed laptop stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And from there, the action moved outside to the foot of the possibly-haunted Gibraltar Point lighthouse. There was still a mellow, lighthearted vibe in the air — something that's helped along upon seeing some of the folks that one normally sees in darkened bars walking around in full facepaint, their inner dragon or butterfly nature on display for all to see. And as sunset approached, the amiable Rick White played while some hastily-moved projection machines from General Chaos lit the masonry behind him. Working without a setlist, White flipped through his notebook ("this is my memory") to find songs to play. He spent a good chunk of his set in the area filled with songs from 2009's 137, including the catchy "Perception", but also stopped on the lovely "Why Be So Curious?" which he wrote for The Sadies4 and had an appropriately pastoral vibe. And speaking of seeing the forest for the trees, White pulled out a couple covers, including Linda Ronstadt's "Different Drum" and Syd Barrett's "Flaming". Ruefully flipping past a bunch of Beau Brummels, White commented that once he got started he just wanted to keep playing covers. Instead, he covered himself, dipping back to Elevator for "The Change".

It was still quite light as the set started, but it quickly drained away as the sun went down, giving the lighthouse a spookier vibe. Once White got going, it looked like he could have kept playing for quite a spell, but with pressure to keep things on schedule, he sent the crowd back in to the schoolhouse to check out a band that he had recently produced.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That would be Halifax's Dog Day, now playing as a stripped-down two-piece of core members Seth Smith and Nancy Urich. It would a sort of return to the garage for the pair, whose music recalls but doesn't imitate the low-slung guitar-based glory of classic college rock from the 80's and 90's. I was a bit late in coming to the band, but they won me over when I saw them playing last year, and even moreso with their Concentration album, so I was curious to see if they'd managed to achieve addition through subtraction — one can see the economic sense of this alignment, but rock'n'roll-wise, two heads is usually less good than four.

All told, this setup was a bit more limiting than the old quartet. Urich's drumming was sometimes a bit of a work in progress, but it got the job done. The strength of of songs was the main thing, and most of new material the band played was pretty good. I especially dug "Eurozone" — I'd've used the adjective "moody" to describe it, but that kinda applies to them all. The first few songs were with Smith on guitar and Urich on drums; midway, they'd switch off for a couple songs, and that worked well, too. On the last song of the set, it did seem to come all together, the music well-arranged enough that it didn't feel like there was anything missing. So if, as it looks like, the band is sticking with this lineup, it sounds like they have the potential to grow into it.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The crowd thinned after that set, with some opting to grab an early ferry back to the mainland, but there was one band left to go. Waterloo's Bocce led with "Transmission", which began with a more deliberate build than I remembered the band bringing to the table — or perhaps I just mentally edited that part out since the last time I saw 'em, since what I mostly remember about that set was dance-y craziness. That would come, but I had the impression that the band has learned something about pacing themselves.

Perhaps appropriate to the venue, at the start it felt rather like a school dance, with almost everyone standing against the walls until the boogie imperative took over and people started moving along to the vocoder-heavy dance beats. By the time the band kicked up "Disco Juan" ("it's a sham! / Damn!") things were moving pretty good. The band even threw in a verse from Woodhands' "Can't See Straight" for good measure.

The best thing about Bocce, though, is that no matter how robotic their sounds might be, they're always very "live" in their execution — this is not one of those "just press play" sort of groups. This is thanks in no small part to the bouncy kineticism of vocalist Tony Salomone, who likes to get active during a show — here he ran over to the merch table to grab a skipping rope to try and get the crowd hopping. Good fun.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That would be the end of the first day's activities, and as most of the remaining crowd hopped on their bikes to cruise back to the ferry docks, I had a nice stroll back with AA, as we made our way back though the uncitylike nightdarkness to grab that last ferry back to the non-island part of the world.

1 The latter was undertaken, to awesome effect, by Maria Bui, who probably also deserves a medal or hug or some form of recognition for her work with Fuzzy Logic Recordings.

2 Surfing that line, one song was introduced with the angry shout of "this is about a sandwich!"

3 That one would be the title track of Muir's next album, which is slated for a spring '11 release.

4 The Sadies recorded it on 2004's Favourite Colours. White also performed "Anna Leigh", another one he gave to The Sadies.

No comments:

Post a Comment