Levitation’s Rickshaw launch sure to be festival’s heaviest event

Photo by Milton Stille
Photo by Milton Stille

The second annual Levitation Vancouver formally kicked off at the Rickshaw Theatre on Thursday night with what is sure to reign as the festival’s heaviest event.

The mostly local line-up (with the exception of some members of headliners SUMAC) began with Seven Nines and Tens who were also celebrating the release of their new album, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Slums. They lured the audience with vast, frosty instrumental passages before understated vocals swept in, and drums avalanched beneath climactic guitars.

Aquanaut brought a vibe that was more reflective of Levitation. Between psychedelic jams were plenty of swampy moments when the bass line was left to linger and carry the tune alone. The singer/guitarist’s voice reverberated even when he stepped away from the mic, a testament to his menacing delivery; combined with the vocal distortion, it was strange to watch him sing, to see that there was indeed a body attached to the inhuman sounds that bled into the theatre’s walls. Aquanaut left the stage with his voice looped and layered on top of itself until it culminated in a warbled mess – a single voice splintered into a cacophony, yelling out behind them until it too dissipated.

Waingro lean more towards hard rock, but the metal spirit finally possessed fans – a handful of them, anyway. But they made the floor theirs, running in mad, uncoordinated circles, slamming into one another full-force. Waingro’s breakneck speed and fury only accelerated the human spin-cycle. I closed my eyes for a moment, and when I opened them, there were sparks on the stage floor and someone I didn’t recognize singing into his own mic. I don’t know what that was all about, but Waingro and their fans adrenalized the night.

Still though, Waingro were a warm-up. Baptists pummelled the crowd’s ears into putty while the growing number of moshers pummeled each other’s bodies into oblivion. Their walls of sound were impenetrable save for a scant number of guitar solos that they let through. More than any other band that night, Baptists were all about release – their own energy and as an outlet for their listeners. It’s no wonder why Dave Grohl is such a big fan.

The Hellmouth continued to churn with Vancouver-Vashon supergroup SUMAC. The house speakers grumbled before the three-piece (comprised of members of Old Man Gloom, Russian Circles, Baptists, and more) took the stage. Like the previous bands, SUMAC were ferocious, bludgeoning, and merged metal with mind-sizzling drops of psychedelia. But unlike the others, SUMAC evoked doom and devotion: they concentrated their energy more than they expended it.

When vocalist Aaron Turner wasn’t growling, he was ritualistically whacking his guitar with a bow as Nick Yacyshyn showered the audience’s ears with cymbals. Brian Cook acted as the spine, his bass lines bending in S-curves following his bandmates’ leads. Moments like this created breathing room in an otherwise clenched-fist bill – before Baptists sucked the crowd’s breath right back out of them with more heavy-handed riffs that went straight through the ears and landed in the stomach.

Levitation’s mostly local metal line-up set the bar high for the rest of the festival. Now, it was time to see how everyone else measured up.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu