The completely neutered summer festival vibe was felt hard at night one of Levitation’s mainstage shows, transplanted from the all-ages Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park to the slick confines of the 19+ Commodore Ballroom downtown. The sunshine peeking through the curtains provided no solace, only taunting the crowd who’d pinned their weekend plans (and dimes) on an outdoor experience. Fortunately, much of the music still held up, inside or out.
“They’re actually starting?” an audience member asked as Louise Burns took the stage at 4:51 pm, nine minutes ahead of schedule. As a show that was supposed to have started at 2 pm, the earlier the better.
Her bright pop-rock would have been perfect in the sun, but backed by a studded, experienced band including Japandroids drummer David Prowse, Jody Glenham who fronts the Dreamers (and Pleasure Cruise once upon a time), and Ladyhawk’s Darcy Hancock, even her more placid numbers were well suited for easing the crowd into the long night of music ahead (especially for those who’d planned to venue-hop).
It was still early, so turnout was unfortunately small for Vancouver’s biggest musical export in years, White Lung. They tore it up as always, striking their way through “Face Down”, “I Beg You”, and more cuts from their latest album, Paradise, including a moody post-punk number or two. “Oh my god!” singer Mish Barber-Way exclaimed after a plastic cup hit her in the chest. “I’m going to call Justin Trudeau and claim some elbowed me!” The band dove into “Drown with the Monster” to close their set.
Returning after a bite on still-sunny Granville Street (none of the usual festival food carts were present as far as I was able to see), I walked in on L.A.’s Allah-Ahs trying to fix their gear mid-performance. They eventually got back on track and delivered more melodic, 60s-inspired rock from the lightest end of the psych spectrum.
Next were skate-punks FIDLAR, who also hail from L.A. They were effectively the night’s main event, stealing the show in every possible way. By now, it was 7:35 pm, and the Commodore had started filling up – likely because of FIDLAR if the sharp drop in attendance following them was any indication.
Beloved FIDLAR anthems including “Cheap Beer” and “Cocaine” fired up the crowd, sending them from buzzed up to pissed up. Typical of any good punk show, FIDLAR fans crowd-surfed, sat on each other’s shoulders, got dumped upside down with their legs splayed in the air; beer flew,… Perhaps in homage to the Evaporators (Nardwuar’s band, of course), lead singer Zac Carper asked the crowd during “Cocaine”, “You wanna get weird?” After we answered in the affirmative (of course), he instructed everyone to sit on the floor (sticky with beer, I know I’m not the only one who opted to crouch) and pop up to their feet on the chorus. POP!, we sprang.
“Pop” was what I expected from colourful, eccentric indie mainstays of Montreal – and, as you can probably tell from that description, a visual spectacle. Founding member Kevin Barnes wore a wig and an elaborate outfit, but the parts of their set that I caught leaned more towards standard rock and provided little else to delight the eyes.
Passing on ambient San Fran electronic artist Tycho – whom I’d heard numerous attendees describe as car commercial music, which I guessed intentionally tied in with the stock footage they said he’d projected in the background – I bolted over to the Rickshaw Theatre to catch what ended up being my favourite performance I saw all year.
That performance was not the opening band, Summering. This is not a knock against the shoegazing Vancouver outfit; their compositions were ambitious, with many evolving parts, and the opposite of any sunny connotations their name suggests. This is just an endorsement of the next band, Montreal’s Suuns.
Talk about creating mood. Crimson red lights draped Suuns’ entire performance, diffused through the pillows of fog that bloomed up from the stage floor. The members evaporated and rematerialized as they stepped into and out of the fog. From the first note, against these visuals, the entire theatre’s attention was locked in.
Pre-recorded electronics (beats, sustained tones, skittering digital effects) and electric drum pads formed the backbone of most of Suuns’ songs. Deflated, wilted doomsday sirens whirred through one track, culminating as an unexpected raver.
Sirens or no sirens, every song felt like a declaration of a state of emergency. Even when the warning wasn’t clear, the sense that everything was teetering on danger permeated the theatre.
More than any jangly, angular post-punk or “art-rock” band, every detail of Suuns’ performance felt precise and calculated. Their approach dominated the risk of frigid sterility, instead livening their music with nuance.
I knew people who bought their $25 tickets just to see Suuns – who arrived during Suuns and left after Suuns. I have to agree: Suuns alone were worth the price of admission. Seeing the crowd rush the merch table immediately after the band finished confirmed that Suuns probably made a few new fans who’d also shell out $25 just to see them.
Renowned Toronto dance-rockers Holy Fuck closed the show with their first appearance in Vancouver in six years. Blasts of electronics combined with live instrumentation to forge fierce beats with canyon-deep drops. The dance floor bounced in waves. For soberer segments of the crowd (which included me), their long jams may have run a bit tediously, but everyone else was locked in and chanted the band’s name until Holy Fuck came back out for one more song.
Who will get the same ovation on night three? Who will be in such demand? Will a nightly showcase once again upstage the main show? Oh, but we shall see!