Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wolfe Island Parade

It was probably only a matter of time before Wolf Parade played the Wolfe Island Music Festival. But just to make sure the occasion was something special, the band chose this humble community festival—held on a bleacher-less baseball diamond in a tiny town a 15-minute ferry ride outside of Kingston, ON—to debut about half an album’s worth of new material.

It was their first gig in 10 months, and there were no signs of nervousness. But for a band notorious for bad behaviour (trashing the Queen Mary at All Tomorrow’s Parties, racking up a $1600 tab at the Polaris Prize gala, throwing cheese at G Love at Osheaga… what am I forgetting?), they were notably humbled by the laid-back, idyllic setting, and the crowd’s response to the overdose of new material.

Reaction ranged from patient to downright ecstatic—after a slow start and one or two oldies, Spencer Krug knocked it out of the park with an anthemic song with the lyric “I’ll give you this city,” followed by a Dan Boeckner rocker that was propelled by a considerably more playful rhythm than drummer Arlen Thompson is usually given to dance around. Another new Boeckner number finds him in the mood for some late-period Clash (or current Spoon).

They closed by asking if people wanted to hear something they knew or a 12-minute new song—needless to say, they went with the latter. “We never learn,” Boeckner joked. Most of the audience had left to catch the second-last ferry by that point, but the faithful were treated to a linear prog rocker where Boeckner and Krug each helmed different sections of the song—confirmation that despite the seemingly competing egos of the various side projects, Wolf Parade are very much a collaborative writing unit. That last number morphed into a Krautrock keyboard jam that was an obvious nod to their frequent tourmates Holy Fuck.

Holy Fuck were in a celebratory mood themselves, having just finished their first full-length, and signing to Young Turk, a subsidiary of Beggars’ Banquet for an October 23 release. Their new boss was in attendance from the UK for this show. What he saw at Wolfe Island was the enthusiasm that indie rockers and folkies have for circuit bending electronic jams, and how easily main Fuckers Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh can adapt to rotating rhythm sections: bassist Kevin Lynn (King Cobb Steelie) was back after an 18-month absence, and drummer Jon McCann (Guided by Voices, Change of Heart, and the very first Weeping Tile drummer ever) had only a half-hour rehearsal before this show. Their early 90s rave anthem "Lovely Allen" fell awry due to some drum machine problems, so Borcherdt pulled the plug and instead started a slinky improv hip-hop jam that ended the set on a much sexier note—especially when Sarah Harmer and the Basia Bulat dancers got on stage to shake it, much to the delight of a sudden rush of photographers.

Harmer was probably still on a cloud from the Weeping Tile reunion set earlier in the afternoon. The band went on hiatus almost ten years ago, but they’ve always reunited for Christmas shows in the Kingston area, and one Lee’s Palace show (in Toronto) in 2001 that showed all the fans of the then-new You Were Here (her breakthrough 2000 solo album) that Harmer had a healthy history with electric guitars, and a songbook that was the soundtrack for many a basement-dwelling student who thought that hitting the Trans-Canada was as good a cure as any for heartbreak and malaise. “Good Fortune,” “The Room With the Sir John A. View,” “The Grin,” “South of Me” (complete with a verse and chorus en fran├žais), “U.F.O. Rosie,” “Westray”—the hits kept coming, including a set-closing Guided by Voices cover with bassist Sean Kelly on vocals and Harmer on drums. Not that Harmer’s lacking anything in her current musical pursuits, but it’s nice to know you can always go home again.

Andrew Whiteman never sounds like he has a home to go to, but it’s that restless musical soul that makes the Apostle of Hustle so fascinating. I’ve written plenty already about how fabulous National Anthem of Nowhere is, but it was nice to hear a different set from the one they played at Hillside last month—even if Whiteman still insists on telling that surreal story about a Mountie, B.C. bud, LSD, a bloody buffalo head, and the decapitation of Bush and Harper. It's a juvenile distraction from a band that is anything but. Multitasking trio members Julian Brown and Dean Stone were in their finest form, as always. I’ve never seen this band with their occasionally expanded line-up, but they certainly don’t need the extra help.

I arrived on the island at the tail end of the always-awesome Spiral Beach, heard raves about the Abrams Brothers performance before that, missed Brian Borcherdt's solo set (replacing Chad VanGaalen, who cancelled), and scampered to find as much shade as possible during scorching pre-sunset sets by Basia Bulat and Born Ruffians.

A thousand thank-yous to Tanis Rideout, Sarah McDermott, Virginia Clark, Chris Brown, Julie Fader, Graham Walsh, Steven Himmelfarb, Frank Yang, falling meteors and all friends new and old for making it a fabulous weekend for Ms. Spitzer and my humble self.

Edit: Mr. Yang has much better pics than I could manage at Chromewaves (Monday morning).

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