A Hazy Shade of Wintersleep

Photos by Ryan Johnson
Photos by Ryan Johnson

Just days after the equinox many inhabitants of “our home and native land” can, and happily do, “officially” put winter to rest. Others, like our brothers and sisters in the Maritime Provinces, get an influx of winter’s not-so-subtle symbol of health in the form of layers of snow. For Halifax’s own Wintersleep, touring through the likes of Kelowna, Victoria, and, as personally witnessed on Friday, March 25, Vancouver, the last three dates of the tour are going to feel more like winter is coming.

Unlike the pampered driving and weather conditions the band received on the Western leg of this current tour, the last three stops in support of their latest LP The Great Detachment may feel like they’re experiencing a reversal of seasons, having Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg on the docket to close out the pilgrimage across our cultural mosaic known as Canada.

It’s hard to say how many times this modern day staple of the Canadian music scene has made this type of trek across the red and the white. It’s an even bigger challenge to pin-point how difficult it is for Canada or moreover the band itself to maintain popularity and financial justification solely here in the “motherland,” not to mention with the current value of the Canadian sheckle. Certainly we “hosers” have always been good at exporting our talent (along with our resources), see them gain success and notoriety abroad, and then welcome them back with open arms with claims of “I’ve been a fan since ‘Shakin’ All Over’, or Jagged Little Pill, or Ungentle Exhumation, or Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing, or My World, or Room for Improvement,” and so on. The list seems endless as I sit at the keyboard pondering. But for every Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot, Alanis Morissette, Cryptopsy, Strapping Young Lad, Justin Bieber, or Drizzy Drake, there is a Jann Arden, a Moist, an Anne Murray, a 54-40, an Our Lady Peace, and perhaps the most tragic of the lot, the only “hip” in Canada, the Tragically Hip, who were/are hip enough to sell out NHL-sized hockey arenas in back-to-back provinces on consecutive nights yet tragically struggled to fill a pub to capacity down south, even at the pinnacle of their ascent.

Now, some may contend that a couple of the artists in the latter list did indeed see a flirt with, or breach of, success either just south with “big brother” or even “over the pond” abroad. However, I contend that Hootie & the Blowfish covering your song for a spot on the Friends soundtrack is closer to fortuitous than a catalyst to intercontinental success.

Without being certain, it’s hard to imagine Wintersleep transcending the realm of Moist into the global recognition of an Alanis Morrissette. I preface this statement with full confession of my own bias: I knew very little about Wintersleep going into the show, beyond the fact that they have a very “Black Metal with female vocalist”-sounding moniker. The day of the show I decided that I should familiarize myself with the unit and went over their catalogue, immediately recognizing “Weighty Ghost” and not much else (not to say that exposure is implicit to strength).

As one can imagine, going into an act with that level of ignorance has yielded extreme levels of jubilation as well as in rare occurrences a more dispassionate take of the evening.
To Wintersleep’s credit, and perhaps aided by their fan-base Friday night, I have never felt the emotion during or after a show as I experienced at “the Legendary Commodore Ballroom”: Wintersleep inspired no feeling at all.

In fact, upon leaving the show I was overtaken by the fact that I simply had no idea whether I liked their music or not, but more than that, whether their own fans genuinely appreciated the band’s performance. I deduced that the band seemed very good-natured and appeared to be having a “swell time.”

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Although the show was never flagged as “sold out,” the venue was quite packed. I have seen far fewer people occupy the Commodore during shows that were advertised as “sold out.” Couple that with the fact that despite the three bands on the bill playing considerably long sets, nobody seemed to leave the concert prematurely. This indicates to me that the fans of the band were in fact enjoying themselves.

The “purgatory” of emotion and “feel” was ultimately gauged, judged, or misjudged by the reaction of the audience or lack thereof. Ever vacant was any movement in the crowd one way or another. Very few instances of dancing, conventional or otherwise (slam-dancing, moshing, ballroom, swing, or even the recent and peculiar act of jumping or “bopping” that has quickly risen to prominence over the past decade plus) were witnessed for any prolonged duration. The usual reverence towards the band at the end of each song that we have all grown accustomed to, whether clapping, or screaming, or whistling was incredibly muted. It was present, but more in line with what one would expect in Japan or in cultures that differ in their show of support and appreciation than we’ve grown accustomed to in North America.

In the end, I saw a lot of shoegazing, pacifism, and quiet murmuring. Now, ask most anyone who bought a ticket to Wintersleep what they thought of the show, and you would see a smile and a verbal confirmation of a good time had. However, it was my first experience in what has to be well over a thousand concerts in my lifetime that I have had to ask around post-performance for an overall “vibe” of the place.

Is this indicative of the (I shudder to use this descriptor) hipster culture? Pacifism to an obscene and (quite frankly) downright rude level? Is the act of passion so castigated that even when folks who have made a choice to attend and in many cases pay to witness an artist they like, don’t feel as though they can display gratitude and appreciation through conventional means? Or is it simply a “lotus land” issue of Vancouverites being “stoned to the gills” and being content with harbouring “inner happiness” and personal tranquility at the current moment, without feeling compelled to share discernable extroverted gratitude or any physical expression of enthusiasm? At least not via the mediums we’ve become culturally accustomed to?

Regardless, it is tough to fault Wintersleep for the neutral emotion or less than emotive crowd. They were talented musicians, played with passion and zeal, and, as previously stated, genuinely seemed to be good people having a good night.

The 2008 Juno winners for “New Band of the Year,” (despite their seven years together as a band prior to the award) seemed to go “back to the well” a little too frequently with their material for my liking. It seemed derivative and at times blatantly borrowed. Which then becomes like so many other aspects in life: a matter of taste and personal preference. If one enjoyed the pH balance and chlorine levels in the water out of a particular water well, one is more apt to stay hydrated in that region. If one is adverse to the taste (of the water), obviously they move on until such time that a new water well or body of one part hydrogen, two parts oxygen is presented. If the well water tastes like nothing, well, then one is forced to delve inside their own character and formulate whether it is worth the risk to seek out the rewards that come with better tasting sustenance. Or whether safety in what one knows trumps curiosity.

In the end, if winter falls and you are still asleep, is it still cold?

 

View more photos of Wintersleep here.