Wavelength 2015: Friday

By Stuart Oakes, Photos by Elysse Cloma

Wavelength 15 is the fifteenth instalment of an annual music festival featuring artists in venues across Toronto, running from February 13 until February 15.

For many, the first night of Wavelength 15 was a trip back in time. Taking place at a jam-packed Sneaky Dees – the home of the festival/Wavelength weekly series for more than seven years (up until 2009) – the atmosphere was one of celebration, since Wavelength is turning 15 this year and, to mark the event, they are throwing a party to celebrate the “past, present, and future” of Wavelength (and Toronto music in general). As such, they had DJ Las Venus Skyway spinning local music between sets – including both some classics and some up-and-coming stars like Dilly Dally and the Dirty Frigs – while General Chaos Visuals supplied some colourful abstract visuals that provided a slightly psychedelic edge to the event.

The Skeletones Four (playing Jim Guthrie)

The Skeletones Four was the first of six bands to play covers as part of the Classic Wavelength/Toronto Song Tribute Sets. Doing a tribute to Guelph singer-songwriter Jim Guthrie (who was in the house for the concert), The Skeletones were extremely sharp, kicking off the proceedings with a bang. While their solo material tends towards the prog side of things (with the odd excursion into spooky CSNY or chip-tune territory), their covers were crisp and energetic. Both the sound and the guitar were great, and the group quickly settled into a fantastic bar-band vibe, looking to warm up the crowd of frozen festival-goers. You could tell they were enjoying themselves, especially the drummer who was busy grooving away behind the kit, and that they had put time into the material. Although I am mostly unfamiliar with Guthrie’s music, the Four made it sound highly entertaining, and I will be sure to dig a little deeper into his body of work.

More Or Les (playing Toronto Hip-Hop Classics)

Second on the list was Toronto MC More Or Les, who has been a fixture in Toronto for upwards of a decade. Part food-critic (“I love brunch,” he shouted at one point) and part comedian, Les was entertainingly energetic, and quick to crack a joke or drop a posse cut (with Thrust, of famed Toronto hip-hop group Rascalz, no less). At this point, performances like this must be old hat for the rapper – he has several albums, EP’s and countless features, and even hosts a Hip-Hop Karaoke night at Revival bar – and it is a pleasure to see him work the crowd. His voice has a bounce to it, and he enunciates in a way that recalls the lyric-driven hip-hop of the 90s. He clearly still loves playing events like this, and his enthusiasm was quick to spill over into the crowd. The posse cut of “Northern Touch” by the Racalz featured several of his peers, including Thrust and Dalia, making it a highlight of the set.

More or Les at Sneaky Dee's for Wavelength 15.

More or Les at Sneaky Dee’s for Wavelength 15.

LOCKBOX (Laura Barrett) (playing Owen Pallett)

Next up was former Sheezer/ex-Hidden Cameras member Laura Barrett, and her new group, LOCKBOX. Playing one of their first shows ever, they drew the difficult task of covering famed musical mastermind Owen Pallett (who has previously gone under the alias Final Fantasy, and has worked with bands such as Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Beirut, and just about everyone else). Pallett’s music tends to get fancy, with odd meter changes and complex arrangements, but LOCKBOX did an excellent job of working around the difficulties and transforming everything into groove-driven dance rock. It was a lot of fun to watch them get the crowd moving with their disco-inspired take on the composer. Working with a classic bass, kit, keyboard and guitar set-up, the group made the songs sound like their own, an achievement when you consider how distinctive the Mississauga-born Pallett is as a musician.

Hervana (playing The Constantines)

Hervana are – you guessed it! – a local all-female Nirvana tribute band. I am not being irreverent either — it is clear the group does not take themselves overly seriously, especially because members Skirt Cobain, Miss Novoselic, Dave Grrrl (!), and Pap Smear picked the name after spotting it making the rounds on Twitter. Joining a growing list of great woman-centric area bands (see: Vag Halen, Sheezer, Baberaham), they forsook their regular musical diet to tackle the much beloved works of Nirvana label-mates the Constantines. Although I am unfortunately unfamiliar with the originals, it was a lively performance and the crowd was clearly into it, yelling and clapping for the first chords of anthem “Shine a Light.” The riot grrrl influence was clear, especially in the vocals, and the band brought a sense of muscular rhythm to the track that, from my understanding, is a hallmark of the Constantines work. Although the covers skewed fairly closely to the originals, the band found ways to mark their own influence on the songs, and a highlight of the raucous performance was the bassist’s absolutely dirty sound. My takeaway is that the group must be fantastic, especially when they are not limited to three songs.

Hervana at Sneaky Dee's for Wavelength 15.

Hervana at Sneaky Dee’s for Wavelength 15.

Delta Will (playing Caribou)

I think, of all the performances over the course of the evening, Delta Will covering Caribou was my personal favourite. Going into the performance, I had been excited to hear how a band that generally sounds like a mix of Grizzly Bear and Deerhunter was going to tackle the complex, sample-driven soundscapes of Dan Snaith, one of the most original dance artists in the entirety of electronic music. In order to do so, the band drew on the same work ethic they put into their own music – their songs sound just as carefully considered as Snaith’s do, if a little less busy (and lacking in pan flute and harp) – and, with a little help from Logic, absolutely slayed. Starting out with a cover of one of Snaith’s earlier works (from back when he went by the name Manitoba), they then moved onto “She’s The One,” a favourite of mine. The mix of live instrumentation and sampling fit together perfectly — so much so that, at points, I could not tell which was which. Charles Tilden did a great job of covering Snaith’s distinctive vocal tone, and the music never felt like it was missing anything. “She’s The One” would have been my highlight for the evening if the group had not immediately blown it out of the water with an inspired, unreal take on the hit “Can’t Do Without You” that deserves a physical release just so it can be put on repeat.

Delta Will at Sneaky Dee's for Wavelength 15.

Delta Will at Sneaky Dee’s for Wavelength 15.

Most People (playing Broken Social Scene)

Most People, a band who have been a Wavelength fixture over the last couple of years, had perhaps the most challenging role of anyone playing: not only did they get sandwiched between Delta Will and Art Bergmann, but they drew the task of covering Broken Social Scene, one of the most beloved Canadian bands of all time, and a group they had not heard until approximately a month ago. Moreover, BSS is famed for having upwards of 40 members, whereas Most People is a duo (however, they added a third member for this performance). Still, the normally psych-pop/dance-leaning group acquitted themselves very well — their familiarity with each other brought a sense of chemistry and energy to the stripped down covers, and they benefited from an audience that knew each song by heart. Though at times the performance felt a little less certain than some of the previous performances, the group made up for it with a thrilling ending. In particular I liked guitarist and vocalist Brandon Gibson-DeGroote, who looked like he was playing his heart out (and sounded less like Morrissey than his recording would suggest).

Art Bergmann

Art Bergmann at Sneaky Dee's for Wavelength 15.

Art Bergmann at Sneaky Dee’s for Wavelength 15.

Art Bergmann’s performance signalled the end of the tribute sets, and was the first performance to go over three songs. Though not personally connected with Wavelength, the Vancouver, B.C. is an influential figure in Canadian music, and has been since he got started with punk in the 70s. Falling somewhere between Lou Reed and an edgier Neil Young, he makes politically driven rock that will crush your skull, and, boy, did his band – a classic four piece – ever sound mean! The first thing I noticed was the drums rattling my skull, and then a wave of power chords knocking me back a couple of steps. Unbelievably loud, but also unbelievably tight, the group had an almost telepathic communication that comes with years of performing. Bergmann was in fine form as well — his voice was an absolute drawl, a contemptuous sneer that seethed with discontent, and he seemed ready and willing to exchange heckles and jeers with anyone drunk enough to risk it. Though the group played far too long, and with much too little dynamic variation, the quality never dipped and, anyway, would you really want anything less from a no-holds-barred, does-not-give-a-fuck punk? Art Bergmann will never surrender.

Controller.Controller

Controller.Controller – a local group playing one of their first shows in eight years – rounded off the night in style. A post-punk group with commanding female vocals, a strong guitarist, and an edgy variation on dance-punk, the group had enough draw to survive both serious technical issues (they needed to borrow a new bass) and an audience exhausted from Bergmann’s powerhouse of a set. I saw a lot of serious fans getting their dance on in the audience, and who can blame them? Vocalist Nirmala Basnayake has a commanding voice, and the band’s jagged but powerful rhythmic drive had me nodding along from the seat where I had collapsed, exhausted. A little more guitar-driven than critics have suggested, the group felt on top of their game despite joking about the apparent “rust” that comes from a long absence. This being the first time I had heard the band, I could see why they had so many cult fans. All in all, it felt like a really positive end to a fantastic first evening of Wavelength 2015.

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