Levitation night three a near-complete knockout

Shabazz Palaces
Shabazz Palaces

Levitation Vancouver’s second mainstage show opened with a far larger and far more enthusiastic crowd than the previous night. Judging by everyone dancing and singing along to 5 p.m. openers Cherry Glazerr, the rain clearly wasn’t the only factor that drove fans through the doors early.

“We just did an interview with Nardwuar,” singer/guitarist Clementine Creevy announced as they took the stage. But that wasn’t all she was thrilled about. Clinking her Heineken with a fan in the front row, she beamed: “I’m legal drinking age here which is so, SO exciting to me!!”

With ecstatic bursts of grungy pop, the young L.A. quartet showed why Iggy Pop is such a big fan. They never came off like they were playing rock star, no matter how much Creevy played to the cameras or how hard she thrashed. She was a pogoing ball of restless energy; the sense of abandon felt real as she mashed her fretboard by cupping one palm over and over again and clumsily wrestled the mic cord away from the stand with her other hand. Cherry Glazerr fans, should prepare for heavier new material. How much heavier? “That sounded like Sabbath!” someone shouted after “Poison”.

Next were another young band, Madrid’s Hinds, who were playing their final North American date. This sharp-riffed pop outfit was indebted to sounds of the 90s, evoking the Calvin Johnson-Doug Martsch collaboration, the Halo Benders. Hinds were also inspirationally indebted to Vancouver’s own Dead Ghosts, whose song “When It Comes to You” they covered. Hinds closed with one more cover, Thee Headcoats’ “Davey Crockett”, which put the Commodore’s bouncy floor to the test.

San Fran garage-psych kings Thee Oh Sees completely overhauled the mood with searing, guitar solo-splattered riff-rockers including “I Come from the Mountain”, “Heavy Doctor”, “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”, and “Contraption/Soul Desert”, all boosted by muscular, propulsive bass and dual drum sets. The number of times frontperson John Dwyer wrapped his mouth over his mic and lashed it with lizardian tongue-flicks, I could only think, “I sure hope he brings his own mics.”

As Thee Oh Sees ended, the night got underway at the Imperial with conga-driven funk-psych from Dada Plan and the alluring voice of ambience-backed singer Charlotte Day Wilson (which she layered on top of some surprising trap beats). But the main draws, who may as well have been presented as co-headliners, were futuristic rap duo Shabazz Palaces and bass virtuoso Thundercat.

It’s easy to listen to certain records and assume that all the sounds have been digitally produced. Shabazz Palaces dispelled this assumption, however, by incorporating congas, a pair of cymbals, shakers, and electronic drum pads alongside heavily synthetic beats on “Forerunner Foray”, the hypnotic ”Youlogy”“Gunbeat Falls”, ”Free Press and Curl”, and more.

Whispers rippled through the crowd near the end of Shabazz Palaces’ set as fans noticed Flying Lotus enjoying the show from the side of the stage. (By the time Shabazz Palaces started, Fly Lo had already finished headlining the Commodore.)

A couple of friends at the Commodore told me that two-thirds of the crowd left between the Growlers and Flying Lotus. If that was true, I imagine he had more fun watching Shabazz Palaces and his self-proclaimed brother Thundercat throw down at the Imperial than performing.

For a bit over an hour, Thundercat took the long-sold-out Imperial crowd to another dimension with a technical showcase of future-funk bass-shredding. Fly Lo intermittently stepped on and off stage, grooving and serving as the best hype man a cat can ask for.

“They’re technically done. But I ain’t done,” Lotus said as 2 a.m. rolled around. He invited everyone in the house to an after-party on Alexander Street, pointing out that “We’re only here for one night…” Not exactly a tough sell.

Before the party migrated though, Fly Lo exclaimed: “I don’t know about the rest of the venue, but I wanna hear some more shit!” Thundercat summed up the night’s feeling with “Oh Sheit, It’s X!”, singing “I just want to party / You should be in here with me / In this ecstasy.”

The venue change from the Malkin Bowl to the Commodore was obviously disastrous, completely forcing all-ages pass-holders (many of whom crossed the border to attend Levitation) out of the festival and causing schedule conflicts for many others. There was also the complete absence of a true summer festival vibe: the artist and market atmosphere, food trucks except in their usual downtown locations, the ability to smoke on the venue grounds. And for those who are inclined towards meeting bands, the performers were difficult to spot hanging out and enjoying each other’s sets, unlike last year when many of them just chilled on the grass. Even the complementary t-shirt situation (offered as partial compensation for schedule conflicts) needed following up with the promotor because the merch staff were not informed about the comp lists.

Regardless of those issues, I’m confident I wasn’t the only person who discovered many surprises each night: new acts that completely transcended my expectations (Suuns, Cherry Glazerr) and acts that were far better than any other time I’d seen them (Thee Oh Sees, Louise Burns). Many of these acts alone were worth the price of admission to their respective nightly showcases. And I managed to fit in almost everything I wanted to see.

If Levitation Vancouver can better organize itself internally and externally and, first and foremost, maintain the crucial outdoor summer festival vibe, this branch of the former Austin Psych Fest may be able to redeem itself. Hopefully, this year’s circumstances haven’t spoiled the festival in everyone’s eyes; it’s never nice seeing festivals fold, and I would sure love to see this particular one return for a third year. Folk and electronic fests abound in B.C., but Vancouver could certainly use a major event like Levitation that supports the city’s love of psych rock.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu