Driving to Squamish on Sunday wasn’t nearly the ordeal it was on Saturday, or so I heard through the grapevine. Good thing too, because I needed to see what the deal was with that Harpoonist and some Axe Murderer I’d heard so much about lately, and they were on at 4:10 p.m. Thankfully, we made it to the festival with 15 minutes to spare before their set, largely due to Carissa’s expert navigational skills – high five, sister. While a dozen of us waited at the itty-bitty Meadow stage for The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer (HAM) to take the stage, I heard Kathleen Edwards finish up her mellow set on the Stawamus stage far away with an interest-piquing segue – “Now Plants and Animals are gonna fuckin’ melt your face.” Woo! Right on! I’m a big P&A fan, but first things first – HAM.
Shawn Hall (vocals, harmonica – or “harp”) and Matthew Rogers (guitar) make up the Vancouver-based duo that is The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer, and from the sounds that came from these two, it looked as if the melting of faces was going to start early today. Hall’s all-natural blues tone makes it all but impossible not to shout out “Mm-hm, oooh yeah!” in agreement with his swampy, Southern exclamations – “Ma, I ain’t mad at you / Don’t you be mad at me!” Mm-hm, oooh yeah, mama!
Within a song, the small patch of Meadow in front of these fellas became crowded and loungers got off their towel mattresses, beckoned to stand by HAM’s raw blues call. Hall appropriately prefaced their well-known second tune “Wake Up” with the following – “Anybody wake up with a stranger this morning?” which did prompt some convincing yips and woops from the back. “Means the festival’s good then,” he went on, before beating out some screams of lament from his harp. Shawn Hall doesn’t play the harmonica, he makes dirty love to it – the kind that’s illegal in most States. It makes you wince – in the best way possible – as you watch and hear him have his way with his musique à bouche, as the French call it. By the time “Love Me ‘Fore Yuh Leave Me” kicked off, the Meadow was packed with young’uns and old’uns stomping feet and slapping thigh to HAM’s inspiring performance. I was pained to walk away from this fantastic scene as they wrapped up a Muddy Waters cover, but I had to catch Plants. No matter, really, since I walked away a new, faithful fan, and I’m certainly not the only one. With roots and blues being a real “thing” these days, it’s only a matter of time before this duo takes the country by storm. Seriously.
Montréal’s Plants and Animals kicked off their set on the Stawamus stage with a sustained, noisy blast. The went into “Song For Love” off this year’s excellent album, The End of That – which was, in my not-so-humble opinion, criminally… brutally overlooked in this year’s Polaris Music Prize competition. I clearly still haven’t come to terms with it… *harrumph*.
Third tune – “Crisis!” Damn right, exclamation mark! I chose this as my 2012 theme song back in February or March. Since, my life has cosmically aligned itself with it to a disturbing degree. I’m living out this album this year. And this tune, this… is rock’n’roll. You can dance to it. You can drive to it. You can fight with a bottle to it. “Somewhere between a crisis and a pretty good tiiime!” Goddamn I cannot get enough of it. It left me wanting more… something more. And Plants and Animals were happy to oblige, playing the heartbreakingly true “Good Friend” (“It takes a good friend to say you’ve got your head up your ass / It takes a good friend to meet you in the park in the dark / It takes an enemy to help you get outta bed / It takes a lover to leave you to feel loneliness.”) Even the mellow lull of “Game Shows” was able to keep most of the rowdy crowd’s attention. After another slower, somewhat meandering tune, Plants and Animals kicked it back into high gear with the fast-riding “The Mama Papa”, and finally, “Lightshow”, another beauty off The End of That. The closer tied a pretty bow on Plants and Animals’ rousing, late afternoon set.
I met back up with Carissa at this point, who did me the great service of opening my ears to CR Avery. Wow, what a show. This guy wasn’t satisfied with having a small crowd give him some love – he wanted everybody who walked through that gate that day to surrender to his party. I must say, Avery did a hell of a job stoking the hot coals that were his crowd into a full-fledged, rowdy bonfire. As he and his crew belted out “Hey Baby, I Wanna Eat You Out!” (yeah, that’s right), more and more passers-by slowed and came over, pulled by the undeniable magnetism emanating from the sunglassed and vested Avery. We all (and I mean all) helped out with a grass-killing, barn-burning version of “Door By The River”, and the Meadow stage became the bloody, beating heart of the festival, if only for a few moments. Highlight of the day for me, no question.
By the time L.A.’s The Airborne Toxic Event hit the Stawamus stage, things were back in full-blown festival mode – hoots and hollers abounded as shirts became optional and double-fisting became the norm for many. “Go make some nice, polite Canadian babies!” the Event instructed as they left the stage to Mother Mother, who started off a tight set with the recognizable “Body of Years” and its thick harmonies. Following that up with covers of Daniel Johnston’s “Sorry Entertainer” and The Pixies’ “Gouge Away” (nice one-two punch, right?), Mother Mother, and especially frontman Ryan “Billy Idol’s lost child” Guldemond, had us eating out of their capable hands. “The Stand” raised the bar even higher, with its heavy bop, captivating talk-singing and sexy-smooth harmonies. I love this wacky tune. They followed up that wackiness with more wackiness, “Let’s Fall In Love”, which should probably be listed as an illicit aural substance because of its dangerous levels of catchiness. Click the song title to watch the video that was just released earlier this month; this one floats and stings, as they say. I’m quickly falling in lust with Mother Mother. Their Squamish set just about sealed it. Hot.
Dallas Green’s City and Colour was the big draw for a lot of festivalgoers this weekend, who capped it all off with a set filled with fan favourites including “The Grand Optimist” and “Sleeping Sickness”.
Big hugs and kisses to all the staff, volunteers, artists and little magical elves who made this year’s LIVE at Squamish come together. Well done, everyone! See you next year!