Friday, December 24, 2010

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

Wavelength presents The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day Two) (feat. Mathemagic / The Magical Bunch / Buke and Gass / Romo Roto / Pants and Tie / catl)

Artscape Gibraltar Point. Sunday, August 8, 2010.

It was a fine day out, with the exception of some looming clouds threatening rain. Met up early with K., and we started the day off with a sidetrip to Taste of The Danforth, making a pass down through the strip and filling up on meats on sticks and in pitas and so forth. There was actually just a quick bit of rain, short enough that we ducked under a storefront to eat for a couple minutes and it passed.

As we made our way to the ferry docks and over to the Island, the sky was looking less and less like it might interfere with the day. Being in good time, we hopped the Centre Island ferry and ambled toward Gibraltar point from there, not needing to be in too much of a rush. And indeed, we got there before the crowd, having some time to wander around and investigate the building. Compared to the day before, there was a bit less of an all-out all-ages festive vibe on this day — no face-painting, fewer kids running around and playing while the show was on.

In fact, Sunday's vibe was a bit more grown-up and Wavelength-y, possibly in part because the day was being hosted by none other than Doc Pickles, leading off by speaking to an almost empty room on the topic of speaking to an empty room.

A handful of people would filter in as Mathemagic began their set. I'm not sure whether it was just my mood or the laid-back summer-schoolhouse vibe, but the Guelph-based trio felt well-suited to the environs. They definitely looked a little looser while performing than the last time I saw 'em, which was a great improvement, although they're still not bantering or interacting with the room much yet. And they're still not, like, rockin' or anything — their sound is all treble and gauze. Not all of the songs connected with me, but it turns out that if you're listening to this band while sitting down and chillin' there's something there to appreciate. Even with guitars and layered voices on top of the laptop-provided beats1 it was still a little stiff and "canned", and there's still not a natural grace and flow in the band's performance. During "Reggae" (which asks the musical question "do you want truth or do you want your baby?") Evan (or perhaps Dylan) Euteneier sat to play a midi keyboard, but had to lean over awkwardly from time to time to actuate something on the laptop. But there's been progress made. And with the faint General Chaos swirling lights behind them, it was a pleasantly light summer day confection.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, after a very quick turnover2, The Magical Bunch, also from Guelph3 blasted into their set. Coming at the notion of an all-ages show from the opposite angle, the band was composed of siblings Christian, Christopher, Victoria and Vestine Ryangoma, who range from ten to sixteen years old. As such, one might cynically think that this was a "gimmick" band. But from the get-go, this was such solidly funky stuff — I was quickly thinking that this might be the most technically proficient band we'd see all day — that there was no thought of giving them a free pass on account of their youth.

The band started off, appropriately enough, with "The Future"4, one of a non-stop rush of original tunes sporting soulful influences, with occasional hints of reggae vibes and hip-hop spirit. Ten-year-old Vestine handled the bulk of the lead vocals, but eldest sibling Christian took over on a couple songs as well. Amazingly solid and great fun to listen to. The songwriting was maybe the least developed thing here — a couple of the songs had the air of generic genre studies, but that didn't distract from how fun this bunch were. "It just lets me know you're never too old to start a new band," Doc Pickles commented at the end of their set.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, following on some advance hype, came what looked to be the fullest room of the weekend, with an eagerly-sitting crowd for Buke and Gass. The Brooklyn duo of Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer play the homemade instruments (baritone ukulele and guitar/bass) from which they took their band name. They played sitting down — giving Sanchez an opportunity to add percussion via a kickdrum with a tambourine attached, while a shortwave radio tuned to the BBC World Service played in the background, adding a layer of chatter behind everything else.

The pair managed to wrangle quite a range of sounds from their instruments — the buke was almost piano-like at times, and a lot of the time there were two or three sonic levels unfolding at once. Perhaps it was because of that I couldn't really find my way into the songs. The music was "busy" and at times threatening to tumble into tunelessness. I think that radio playing in the background was a bit of a hint what they were going for — sometimes it sounded like they were stuck between stations, though at others it came back down to something more grounded.

Even live, this sounded like a crazy-quilt of home-recorded, pitch-shifted loops — the closest thing musically that it brought to mind for me was Tune-Yards. I found it technically interesting more than musically compelling, but it certainly went over big with the crowd. There's been enough response that the band has already made a couple return trips to town, so there's certainly a receptive audience for what they're doing.

Listen to a track from this set here.

It had been over a year since I'd seen Romo Roto, who'd left me with mixed feelings on first exposure. As they begun, things sounded a bit more arranged than I'd remembered. Still very much a clamourous caterwauling, to be sure, once it built up in intensity, but I think Alexandra Mackenzie and Tomas Del Balso were playing with a bit more focus. And a sense of fun as well — Del Balso gave a charmingly goofy demonstration of what he explained was the official dance of Toronto Island, sort of running in place with arms flying about. Buke and Gass, now hanging out in the crowd, shared in the delighted laughter over that and, like most of those present, seemed to be digging the band.

Pounding away at their minimal drumkits, they were backed on many of the songs with sound-loops played on an old cassette player. Both the drumming and the vocals would switch instantly from being in close unison to offsetting, opposing lines. And like those shifts, I went back and forth on how much I was digging it. But say what you will about the band, they bring a ferocious kineticism, evidenced on the superfast final song with co-ordinated crossover drumming between the two kits. Musically, I think this is always going to be sort of hit and miss for me, but I totally admire the spirit and energy that the band bring with them. While they're playing, I can get into the fun of it, even if it doesn't quite inspire me to do the island dance.

Listen to a track from this set here.

As night fell, Romo Roto's gusto was replaced by electro-soulfunkers Pants and Tie, who are unquestionably dancey but veer more towards restraint. This was another band I'd seen a while back, but the same elements I remembered were in place, mostly the lignite of frantic desperation compressed into disco diamonds. Coming off like the world's most anxious funk band, the most distinctive element was persistently-jittery vocalist Mark Colborne, who walked around in front of the band with the broken cadence of a Fremen soldier as he delineated sexual dysfunctions in "7 x 7" and "Mr. Pickton"

It could be my memory playing tricks on me — or just going in with a notion of what to expect — but I found the music to be a bit more free and funky, a bit more naturally easy to groove along to, a counterpoint to the vocals that made the whole thing less claustrophobic without ruining the delicious tension that underlies the songs. A good time.5

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, to close things out, it was out to the yard for some back-porch blues from catl, playing at one edge of the lawn with a minimal PA setup. One of the General Chaos projectors was aimed out of the Fireplace Lounge's window onto the trees behind the band as they wrapped up the festival like a woozy heavyweight who'd spent the weekend downing whiskey sours. Leading off with an extended ramble through "5 Miles", the sound had just the right amount of rawness to it — elegantly rough enough for the band to credibly tackle a back-to-back pair of Hasil Adkins covers. Though it never looked like a sure thing, the rain had held off after all — and being outside for this was a perfectly awesome ending to the day.

And then after a rip-roaring run through Dylan's "Outlaw Blues" it got better, with the band closing out with a quite literally explosive finale as fireworks shot up into the sky behind them as they rocked out "Workin' Man's Soul". Simple elements, but at the right moment it all came together and felt like a special occasion.

Listen to a track from this set here.

All things told, a rather excellent event. Even if I didn't lovelovelove each and every one of the acts, it was a well-chosen lineup, and this is the sort of event that is way more then the sum of its parts — I didn't come for any one band so much as the experience, and it was one of the year's best shows.6

Sunday night on the Island was quieter than Saturday, with the moorings less-lined with partying boaters. That made for an even murkier walk back to the ferry dock, but it was still rather pleasant. (At least up to the very end, when, in sight of the dock, K. found a stray pothole that led to a scary-looking tumble. Not too much damage done, however.) Back on the mainland, I had the weird/surreal experience of being on a high from this bit of independent, local culture when I ran into the ACC crowd dispersing from the Paul McCartney concert and suddenly felt rather outnumbered and out of place. Well, they can have their expensive arena shows — I'd take something up-close and personally engaging like ALL CAPS any day.

1 This band featured two Macbooks right next to each other — is this the dreampop equivalent of a macho double-necked guitar?

2 The band were so efficient in getting set up that Duncan didn't even have time to make it to the stage for a verbally dexterous intro — they were too young and eager to realize they should be prepared to hang back for a few minutes.

3 I don't know what's in the water out there, but after seeing the first two bands on this bill I was a little sad that The Magic, also from Guelph, weren't playing this show as well.

4 The Magical Bunch's take on the future was much more optimistic than the similarly-named Leonard Cohen song — or the also similarly-named Prince song, too. (Highly tangential thought: has anyone even done a Prince/LC "Future" mashup?)

5 If you need to blast away some post-holiday tension, Pants and Tie will be playing next week (Dec. 30) at The Garrison's Boxing Week Festival & Food Drive.

6 And hopefully, this is going to continue and become a tradition. Word from the Wavelength camp is to keep August 13 and 14 free on your 2011 calendar.

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