Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gig: Wavelength FIFTEEN - Night 2

Wavelength FIFTEEN – Night 2 (feat. Ginla / Last Ex / Del Bel / The Acorn / Lowell)

SPK Polish Combatants Hall, Saturday, February 14, 2015.

The Present is an uncertain place, lacking the hopeful glow of The Future and the retrospective adjustability of The Past. The middle of three nights of the Wavelength festival — thematically split into Past, Present and Future — was no less so, feeling a little inadequately stirred up. Which is to say, that although I liked most of the bands on the bill on their own merits, juxtaposed against each other the night's curation felt too safe, lacking any sudden left turns.

Maybe that notion of safeness was also lingering in my mind after the afternoon's artist talk with Art Bergmann, who complained about the suffusion of bland "beigeness" in the world at large. So, yeah, on the whole, this night was a little too beige.

There were good vibes in the room, mind, and it's always nice to be able to take in a show at the Polish Combatants Hall, where even a healthy crowd (as this gig had) meant you'd still have some elbow room, and the high walls behind the stage also make it an excellent canvas for General Chaos' visuals. I was glad to see that there were heaps of young first-timers out at this all-ages show, even if the big draw for them turned out to be a fairly uninterestingly generic pop singer.

Opening the night was Ginla, a duo on their studio recordings but playing as a trio live with guit, moog and drums. Offering some hazy popstuff, the tunes as of yet offer a bit more atmosphere than hooks. Attending to their gear, there's not much showmanship, making them a bit more suited to the bedroom studio than the stage — although having the live drums in the mix adds a spark. The sensibility was also a bit too straight-ahead to really stand out, so hopefully there's a weird leap forward yet ahead for the group, though there's already potential on display here.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Last Ex is also a core duo performing live as a trio. Simon Trottier and Olivier Fairfield, who play together as members of Timber Timbre, started the project to further the work they did on an unreleased film soundtrack. Both of those touchstones are present on their album and in the material they performed live, though Last Ex hews more towards cinematic abstraction than anything you'd head on a Timber Timber record. Live, they were joined by Mathieu Charbonneau, who also plays with them in TT — though his former work in epic-instrumentalists Torngat is also a fitting sonic touchstone here.

Their set started a bit roughly, with Trottier having some guitar problems. Fairfield would also have some issues with his drumside synth, but when things were smoothed over, this was a satisfying set. Their expansive sound is a natural fit for Constellation Records, but their music doesn't have the grand sweep of, say Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Do Make Say Think, preferring instead self-contained hazily evocative sonic miniatures. There's also enough forward thrust for it to be more than just background-y instrumental music, but this was arguably not the best situation to spotlight that, as the crowd largely treated this as something to chatter over.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Del Bel's mid-bill slot also doubled as the album release show for their self-titled sophomore effort. That probably made it additionally frustrating for the band that their set was plagued with sound issues and technical difficulties, including a recalcitrant synth that was vexing bassist Tyler Belluz to no end. Even after a pause to set that right, the mix was still wonky.

But things improved as the band persevered, and at least the last few songs sounded pretty great. The icing on cake came when horse-stealing death ballad "The Stallion" was chased with a "schmaltzy" closing cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" — that juxtaposition perhaps getting to the heart of what makes Del Bel so appealing. And if nothing else, going out on a high note mostly obviated the memories of the rough start.

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

A post-album pause turned into a few years of hiatus for Ottawa's The Acorn, with frontman Rolf Klausener devoting his energy to co-founding the Arboretum Festival and dance-oriented side project Silken Laumann. The rhythmic pulse of the latter seems to have stuck with him, as several of the songs in a set filled with new material were based around simple drum-machine beats. Those rhythm tracks seemed to keep both the tunes and the parka-clad Klausener rooted in place at first, but as he warmed up he stripped off layers and heaved some Valentine's Day condoms into the crowd. Some of the new material sounded a little staid next to the couple familiar ones that were mixed into the set, but it's possible that the new material will find its pulse in time.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The night was capped off by Elizabeth Boland, who performs as Lowell. (She was backed on stage by an un-introduced Matt Fong on guitar.) I'd say that her electro-pop stylings more or less missed the mark, but would also note they were exceedingly popular with the enthusiastic young crowd that was there to see her. Boland wobbled a bit when technical problems took her beats and vocals out of the sound system, but after being unsure whether she should retreat from the stage while things were worked out, she eventually managed to own the moment with the help of a megaphone and some crowd interaction. So points there for fast thinking and keeping things interactive, but there wasn't much to recommend in her songs.

That closed the night out on a rather beige note, but at least there was still the Future to look forward to.

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