Tuesday, October 26th, 2010
Halifax Pop Explosion 2010 Day Four
It Kills, Great Lake Swimmers, Milks & Rectangles and more at Halifax Pop Explosion
Frank YangI guess the final day of coverage is as good a time as any to talk about some of the non-Pop Explosion aspects of my visit to Halifax, which was my first-ever visit to the east coast and first trip within Canada in over three years. Though to be honest, I didn’t do a whole lot that wasn’t HPX-related – some wandering around downtown Halifax, which seemed to be in a particularly epic state of construction and/or renovation, the previously mentioned fast/walkabout to Point Pleasant, and most enjoyably a visit to the exceedingly photogenic but also incredibly cold and windy Peggys Cove, which had the added bonus of some picturesque Autumn foliage on the drive out.
Still, the best parts of the trip were thanks to the festival and conference, where I got to participate in a panel on blogging (natch) with You Ain’t No Picasso, Hero Hill and The Line Of Best Fit (and apologies to anyone who misinterpreted when I said, “the first songs you write will be terrible, and the next ones will also be terrible but less so” – I was trying to be encouraging! They’ll get better!) and just generally got to hang out with peeps old and new; Halifax offers many great places for lounging about, waiting for the… leisurely wait staff.
And of course there was the music. I’d gone relatively light on shows through the first few days so Saturday was the day to make it up some – and a good start was a matinee performance by Great Lake Swimmers. I hadn’t seen the band play since Spring 2007, by which point they’d already graduated to playing churches and halls that complimented their gorgeous, ghostly folk – pretty much the polar opposite from the dark and (pleasantly) grubby Seahorse Tavern. And as lovely as the performances in those more stately venues are, there was something really exciting about seeing them in relatively rougher and tumbler (?) environs – they ran through their set with more jump and flourish than I think I’ve ever seen them with and having a great time of it. Seeing as how a tour of churches and the like would be a special outing for most bands, I propose that the Great Lake Swimmers cross Canada while playing the seediest clubs possible. By the time they hit the coast, they’ll be downright metal.
Photos: Great Lake Swimmers @ The Seahorse Tavern – October 23, 2010
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Pulling On A Line”
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Your Rocky Spine”
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “I Am A Part Of A Large Family”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “River’s Edge”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Stealing Tomorrow”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Palmistry”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Pulling On A Line”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Still”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Back Stage With The Modern Dancers”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Your Rocky Spine”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “To Leave It All Behind”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Bodies & Minds”
MySpace: Great Lake Swimmers
The evening programme kicked off at Hero Hill’s showcase at the cozy Company House and locals It Kills. Of all the bands’ MySpaces I cruised in advance of the festival, theirs caught my attention the most and buoyed by Radio Free Canuckistan’s glowing review of their self-titled debut, it was one of the few immovable shows on my schedule. Describing them is no easy task; the four-piece of guitar, cello, drums and piano certainly incorporated elements of Godspeed, Kronos and Explosions into their baroque take on orchestral post-rock, but rather than the build-and-release typical of the style, they instead meditate on the moment like a suspended breath. Add on top of that choral harmonies that may or may not be wordless – it could be hard to tell in the mix – and you had something that had familiar touchstones but still sounded unlike anything I’d heard before. Recommended? Yeah.
It was then down the street to the Paragon Theatre for Toronto’s Dilly Dally. I hadn’t heard of them before but they were pretty appealing in their punky (though not especially punk) rock, which came liberally drenched in grease and snot, but also with a dollop of melody and attitude. About midway through their set frontwoman Katie Monks mentioned her brother’s band would be playing later that night, and something snapped into place – you could hear some of the same record collection DNA that informs Tokyo Police Club’s sound in Dilly Dally’s, but while rougher, the latter is potentially more interesting. Their set lasted barely 30 minutes and exhausted their entire repertoire, but it was more than enough to impress. They have a couple of Toronto shows coming up – The Tranzac tomorrow night, October 27, and The Garage on November 5.
The lack of anywhere else to be at 10PM kept me at the Paragon for Calgary’s Ghostkeeper, even though their self-titled debut had failed to impress me the way it had those who got it onto this year’s Polaris long list. Happily, I found them more enjoyable live as their brand of abrupt, deconstructed blues and pop was prone to outbursts of rocking out and was softened up by some nice boy-girl vocals. Even so, about midway through their set I noticed on Twitter that someone said the venue was at capacity and, being the generous soul I am, I decided to let someone else have my spot.
After a visit to Pizza Corner for my first donair and one of the messiest dining experiences of my life, it was to the Foggy Goggle for the last stop of the night and the festival. Prince Edward Island’s Milks & Rectangles wasn’t the reason I went there, initially, but quickly into their set they became just about the highlight of the night. I would be surprised if any reviews of the band failed to mention Franz Ferdinand, and the comparison is an apt one – though they may not cut as dapper a figure as the Scots, they do mine much of the same New Wave/post-punk dance rock landscape and do it really well. That’s not all they’ve got in their arsenal, though – they also had a knack for half-anthemic (no fist pumping) singalongs and quirky art-rock, but most importantly, they knew that if you got the girls in the audience dancing, you’d already won. And having apparently brought an entire party with them from PEI, the girls were definitely dancing. It was a loud, sweaty and irresistible set that deserved – and got – an encore. Their last two EPs – Dirty Gold and Troubleshooters – are available to download for free and while neither quite captures the tightness and excellence of the live show, they do affirm that this is a band that could do great things.
Photos: Milks & Rectangles @ The Foggy Goggle – October 23, 2010
MP3: Milks & Rectangles – “Gold Teeth / Diamond Ring”
MP3: Milks & Rectangles – “Wink And A Gun (The Jury’s Hung)”
MySpace: Milks & Rectangles
And to wrap it all up, Gramercy Riffs. Now I had thought that, hailing from St. John’s, Newfoundland, that they’d have a flotilla of fans out to support them but as it turns out, they now call Toronto and Montreal home and this was, apparently, their first time playing Halifax. Needless to say, the big, rowdy throw-down I expected didn’t quite happen but considering how… boisterous their appearance at NXNE got and how it didn’t quite feature the band at their best, maybe that was a good thing. Because though this performance was a few degrees more subdued than that one, it was also less ramshackle and put the focus on the band’s proper strengths – namely their two excellent frontpersons in Mara Pellerin and Lee Hanlon (even though Pellerin’s vocals were poorly mixed for much of the show). Their different yet complimentary deliveries elevate Gramercy Riffs and their debut It’s Heartbreak above many others who’d seek to make adjectiveless pop-rock. A performance level somewhere between this one and the NXNE one would have been ideal, but still a good time and a good wrap to the fest.
Photos: Gramercy Riffs @ The Foggy Goggle – October 23, 2010
MP3: Gramercy Riffs – “Call Me”
MySpace: Gramercy Riffs
Many thanks to the folks at HPX and in Halifax in general for a great trip. Less thanks to the security staff at Stanfield International airport, who take whole Maritime friendliness a touch too far in stopping to chat with everyone who passes through their metal detector. I barely made it onto my flight and that included a 10-minute boarding delay. But anyways.
I don’t know if all the names will fit on the sandwich board outside, but a worthy bill hits the Horseshoe on November 25 with The Wilderness Of Manitoba, Leif Vollebekk and Olenka & The Autumn Lovers.