Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gig: Wavelength FIFTEEN - Night 1

Wavelength FIFTEEN – Night 1 (feat. Skeletones Four / More Or Les / Lockbox / Hervana / Delta Will / Most People / Art Bergmann / controller.controller)

Sneaky Dee's. Friday, February 13, 2015.

Dividing this year's three festival nights into past, present and future, the opener saw the band returning to Sneaky Dee's, home to the series for the bulk of its lifespan as a weekly series. It's not a venue I find myself at much these days, so there is a faint hint of nostalgia in being there. Upstairs, not much has changed. The paint on the ceiling is peeling a little, adding to the sensation of stepping into a dusty memory. But the drinks are still cheap.

The evening was split into two distinct parts, the first of which was a series of cover sets which saw the sorts of bands you might see at a Wavelength nowadays covering the sorts of bands you might have seen onstage in the series' early times. This turned out to be a great success, with all of the bands pulling it off — some even managed to impart their own spin on the material. And even with three-song mini-sets, quick turnovers managed to keep the momentum up.

Skeletones Four started the night off by paying tribute to WL's Guelph connections, covering the songs of Jim Guthrie (who just happened to be in the crowd). "Evil Thoughts" could have passed as something from the band's own catalogue and the band brought a nice menacing undertone to it; "Virtue" and "So Small" had a bit more lightness to them.

Listen to a song from this set here.

That got things started, but the still-growing crowd was really fired up by More Or Les, who gave a quick history lesson in T.O. hip-hop, pulling out tunes from Saukrates and Kardinal Offishall before calling up some of the all-stars of Hip Hop Karaoke (including Kryptonite, Mr. Mischief, June & Pilaf, Dirty D) to bring Rascalz' posse cut "Northern Touch" to life. The coup de grace here was getting Thrust, who appeared on the original, to join in.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Keyboardist/vocalist Laura Barrett was later heard asking around if anyone could identify what genre Lockbox fell into, a fair question given the range of sounds they had to tackle to play the songs of Owen Pallett. Playing the songs without a violin would give them a different sound, but doing so without the use of Pallet's loop pedal meant having to reconstruct them from the ground up. The recent "Song for Five & Six", with its squiggly Abba-esque synth line required the least re-jigging. "Keep the Dog Quiet" registered as jittery new wave while "Many Lives → 49 MP" (with a Tubular Bells kind of vibe) progged out — "be prepared to dance in a bunch of different time signatures," was the warning at the outset. Barrett, a fine singer, sometimes seemed a little unsure whether to go high or low to match Pallett's vocals, but on the whole the re-constructions came together rather well. This was the début for this new unit (with Sarah Buchanan on drums, Jeff DeButte on bass and Niall Fynes on guit), and hopefully we'll be getting a chance to hear them tackle some original material.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Hervana (who are, as their name implies, an all-female Nirvana cover band) tackled Constantines, a rather different sounding band, theoretically united by the fact that both were briefly on Sub Pop. The fact that the band's re-interpretations felt a bit less "lived in" than some of the other covers could have made them the superficial work of, well, a cover band. But the Cons were at their best when things were fiery-fresh and uncertain, so Hervana's sense of newness worked in their favour. "Soon Enough" felt a bit inert to start, but "Young Lions" and "Shine a Light" had the right sort of raw energy.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Delta Will gave a historical overview of Manitoba/Caribou, leading off with "Hendrix With Ko" from Dan Snaith's artistic breakthrough Up in Flames. The band, this time out a four-piece with Sexy Merlin's Sean Dunal on drums, caught that song's reconstructed psychedelic vibe quite nicely before moving forward to "She's the One" and "Can't Do Without You", each a bit more dance-floor focused than the one before. Frontman Charles Tilden brought a particular sense of detail to matching up some of Snaith's sampled sounds.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The perfect Broken Social Scene cover set would probably involve someone rambling onstage for fifteen minutes about hugs, the power of forgiveness and the existential consequences of feeling fucked up inside while a dozen people milled around behind them tuning endlessly. Instead, Most People focused on the songs, doing a superior job of re-interpreting them in their own voice rather than slavishly copying them. They slid further in that direction over their trio of songs, with "Sweetest Kill" coming off the closest to the original while treating "Lovers Spit" and "7/4 (Shoreline)" more like Most People tunes — instead of finding a Feist fill-in on the latter, Paul McEachern handled the high vocal parts. Closing out the first half of the night, this definitely had a headliner vibe.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Even after half-a-dozen short sets, the night was only halfway over. Celebrating the past in a different way, Can-rock icon Art Bergmann made his Wavelength début. Ever since forming the K-Tels in 1978, Bergmann has been a voice in the wilderness and a cog in the machine, trying to slip his raw testimonials into the prevailing discourse. Fighting health troubles and a depleted muse, Bergmann has been living in Alberta for the past decade, mostly off the radar (save for an occasional special appearance), and it was a pleasant surprise last year to hear of his return with a new EP. The four tunes on Songs For the Underclass are as pointed as the disc's title in their last-chance lamentations for a world gone wrong.

Whether all that would be appreciated by the large segment of the crowd that looked too young to remember his cultural presence looked uncertain. "Yeah, we're covering something named Art," Bergmann off-handedly muttered near the start of his set, picking up on the vibe. That double joke sailed over the audience's heads, and Bergmann seemed a little disappointed at these modern audiences that don't boisterously rise to the occasion, or even heckle more than half-heartedly.

He was definitely not disappointed with his "Toronto band", who were in fine form. Powered by Chris Wardman on guitar, Bergman was soon swapping grins as the band powered through his back catalogue. There's an embarrassment of riches in his songbook, and it was a thrill to hear high-powered versions of "Remember Her Name", "Beatles in Hollywood", "Bound For Vegas", "Contract" and more. "Drones of Democracy", the first track from the new one provided the set's climax, a sweeping song that owes more than a little something to the slow-burning lament of Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer."

Some of that goodness was definitely lost on the crowd, who started to drift away as the set wore on. After the short, sharp bursts of the cover sets, the hour-and-a-quarter here felt a little long in the context of the night, and too much perhaps to engage the casually interested. But I was glad to have seen Bergmann put on an impressive show that maintained its power and focus throughout.1

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

The crowd was listing a bit and the hour was growing late as the night's last act took the stage. Still, given it was about seven years since controller.controller last played a proper gig, waiting up past one in the morning probably wasn't too much of an extra burden. Precisely of their moment with that mid-aughts hi-hat riding death disco sound, it's probably been long enough for them sound to feel fresh again, and the band hit the stage with a jolt-you-awake groove, launching the slashing dual guitars of signature song "History" into a suddenly-heaving dancefloor.

A couple missed cues and other signs of rustiness couldn't spoil the celebratory vibe, though a bass malfunction after the second song momentarily brought the energy back down. (Ironically, it happened right around when Basnayake was singing "if things can go wrong, they'll only go wrong" during "Silent Seven".)

Once Ronnie Morris secured a replacement (courtesy of Most People), he did his best to bring things back up, mugging expressively, dancing as he played, and eventually taking to the crowd. Meanwhile vocalist Nirmala Basnayake was all smiles as she made the obligatory getting-older jokes and cajoled drummer Jeff Scheven to try and approach the tempos they could tackle in their heyday.

A new twitter account implies this reunion wasn't a one-off and the reaction from the crowd implied that some of the folks that missed them the first time around were taking notice. Stay tuned.

Listen to a song from this set here.

1 After the set, I saw Bergmann popping out of the off-stage area with a cigarette in his hand, which he proceeded to light and take a puff from as he stepped down from the stage. While I was amused at the punkrock disregard for the rules that was more evident in the sixty-two year old singer than in the audience, I didn't realize 'til after the fact that that transgression was enough to get Bergmann bounced from the venue. When's the last time any of the would-be young badasses you saw perform manage to get turfed from their own show?

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