Monday, July 30th, 2007
Hillside 2007 I
There was merchandise available at this year’s Hillside Festival with the clever slogan “Thrillside” emblazoned on it – this I take a little bit of issue with. If they wanted a suitable adjective/awful pun, they should have gone with “Chillside”.
Held on an island conservation area in the northeast corner of Guelph for the past 24 years, Hillside has a reputation for being one of the mellowest, most laid back music festivals you’ll ever find and now having attended my first one this past weekend, I can say that it’s a reputation well-earned. I skipped out on the Friday night events just because I couldn’t make it out there in time, nor did that night’s lineup really entice (but CBC Radio 3 was there and have a report).
My Saturday afternoon arrival was just in time to catch the Pop Montreal showcase out at the Lake Stage, which like its compatriot the Island Stage, was a big beer tent structure filled with picnic table seating and a sturdy but makeshift stage constructed from plywood atop some steel girders (the main stage, on the other hand, was a fancy permanent structure with an impressive green roof).
The first performer in this mini showcase was Katie Moore. Moore started my day off ably backed by some of the other performers on the bill in a short set of slow-burning country and breezier bluegrassy fare, all served up with a smile.
When Moore finished, half her band stuck around and reconfigured themselves as the hotly-tipped trio Plants & Animals, newly signed to Secret City Records. Specializing in a fascinating blend of math, prog and country, they managed to sound otherworldy and salt of the earth at the same time. Think of them as occupying a similar cosmic plane as The Sadies yet in a completely different orbit. Quite possibly as good as everyone says they are.
The next while was spent lolling about in the sun, people watching and running into familiar faces. Lolling stopped when it was time for Forest City Lovers to take the stage. Though based in Toronto, the band has deep Guelph roots and that was evident from the hearty and supportive crowds that turned out to greet them. Their sprightly folk pop sounded terrific, their songs’ inherent Winteriness taking on a different character when heard in the bright Summer sun. Their set included a few new songs that weren’t aired last time I saw them and offered a tantalizing taste of what’s to come when their next album is released this Winter.
Their set was followed by some drifting around the festival grounds, inspecting the tie-dye shirt and bongo drum vendors, catching a tiny bit of a workshop helmed by Ron Sexsmith, having a sausage and generally people-watching.
As evening rolled in, I headed over to the Island Stage where The Besnard Lakes, just that day recipients of a big feature in The Globe & Mail, were taking the stage. Playing a keyboardist short, their show was slow and stately and if they weren’t playing in a beer tent beside a lake at sunset, might have even been a bit sinister. Beneficiaries of some incredible sound from the PA (actually, the sound everywhere was some of the best I’ve ever heard in any setting), the Besnards’ triple-guitar interplay and spot-on, soaring vocals harmonies made for a set that was beautiful and really kind of astonishing, even to someone who’s seen them before.
Photos: The Besnard Lakes @ The Island Stage, Hillside Festival – July 28, 2007
MP3: The Besnard Lakes – “And You Lied To Me”
Video: The Besnard Lakes – “For Agent 13″ (YouTube)
MySpace: The Besnard Lakes
As the day gave way to night, so too did the lineup take on a more rock-friendly vibe. Or in the case of Dragonette, dance-rock. Fronted by Martina Sorbara, who had played Hillside before in a past life as a folk singer, the band ditched the heavy synths of their recorded output for a lean, classic rock configuration (guitar, bass, drums, vox) with some samples and triggered beats where necessary. They brought a good dose of energy to the day’s performances but they couldn’t help coming of as an ersatz version of Metric, though less confrontational, charismatic and more interested in partying than politics. eGigs UK has an interview with the band.
As for the real Metric, their face and voice – Emily Haines – was setting up at the main stage for what would be the last of her shows in support of her solo endeavours. Accompanied by a one-man Soft Skeleton on keys and backdropped by clips from the films of Guy Maddin, Haines delivered a downbeat but not dour set of piano pieces that were rather poignant. And by taking the time to interact with the audience, smile and even lead the crowd in an odd but well-intentioned clap-along, it was quite a world of difference from her first Metric-era solo performance almost exactly three years ago.
Photos: Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton @ The Main Stage, Hillside Festival – July 28, 2007
MP3: Emily Haines – “Rowboat”
MP3: Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – “Dr Blind”
Video: Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – “Dr Blind” (MOV)
MySpace: Emily Haines
I opted for electro-rockers Shout Out Out Out Out to close out the evening over The Dears, who I’d seen three time in the past year. As it turns out, I could have done both as the Edmontonians’ set was only starting when the Dears were halfway through their. Their set was delayed for 40 minutes after they forgot a
synth sampler, essential to their show, in their hotel room. The Island Stage was beyond packed with people looking to get their dance on, and to their credit they waited patiently if a bit disgruntledly, not really appeased by the band’s attempt to make nice by tossing fresh fruit into the crowd. The equipment eventually did arrive, however, and SOOOO were pretty damned awesome in the double-drummer, triple-bassist, scissor-kicking, mic-spinning, cowbell-banging, vocoder-junkie kind of way that we’ve all seen a million times before. The truncated set was a shame, but as they say – ’tis better to have shaken your sweaty ass for a short while than to never have shaken it at all.
And thus ended day one. While the trip up was mostly uneventful, on the way back I made the mistake of assuming the car in front of me leaving the conservation area was heading back the way we came and following it. As a result, I got completely lost. Nothing like driving around the unlit backroads of Wellington County at 1 in the morning without a map or even any idea which way is north. Good times indeed.