by carl wilson

Wavelength 200: Wavier, Lengthier, Uncut

"It's our fourth anniversary - four years, four birthday parties, and so far this one's been by far the best," said a hoarse Jonny Dovercourt from the stage of Rockit on Church Street on Saturday night, and the half of the festival I saw certainly backed that up. As I'm quoted saying in the program-zine, Wavelength is the heart of the Toronto music scene - or at the very least the indie-rock-and-miscellaneous scene. The fact that it's lasted four years on volunteer labour and goodwill, as well as its creators' deep capacity to renew their own excitement, provides more to celebrate than one weekend can fulfill. [...]

On the two nights I made the scene, the social occasion was as memorable as the music, as usual at Wavelength, which can make it a challenging gig for anyone whose music is on the softer side, such as the Barmitzvah Brothers on Friday night at Dovercourt House (definitely the find of the weekend's four venues, voted Best Place to Hold a Dirty Cotillion): The high-school-aged Guelph ensemble couldn't fit themselves and all their instruments and toys on to the small riser in the hall, so like many of the evening's performers they couldn't really be seen once you were a few rows back into the packed crowd. (Sacrificing myself for critical duty, I shoved my way to the front row.)

But the sound system wasn't able to pick up a lot of their gentle, charmingly clumsy approach to their instruments - most notably when Jenny brought out her banjo, which even with two mics sounded like a mouse chittering away in its hole. That moment brought out the best in Wavelength spirit, though: Someone in the crowd realized that shushing wasn't working, so he raised one hand for silence as in a kindergarten classroom; as hand after hand went up the noise level fell and Jenny was able to play the song. What was remarkable was how much fun the little gesture itself was, a spontaneous silent chorus of crowd-community, the sound of one hand clapping along.

It was my first time hearing unlikely white Afrobeat band Ultra Magnus. They might not have gotten their Fela Kuti grooves fully locked down, but they were diving in with gusto, and the horn section particularly sounded superbad, like the JB Horns gone to Ornette Coleman school. We decided this would be a superb band to hire for your wedding, for the final hours when everyone is popping around on a champagne cloud, the parents' generation has retired to the side tables and it's the last chance for those sloppy wedding hookups: UM would bring the marriage rites back home to their secret erotic meaning.

I Can Put My Arm Back On You Can't scorched the rafters with a hardcore-Sonic-Youth-something-else barrage, but they overwhelmed Dovercourt House's acoustics with their volume so severely that I can't tell you what the something else might be. And the Fembots simply put on a hypnotizing set that showed how gorgeous and full a sound has grown out of this band's mopey minimalist origins - they've burst into bloom like Songs:Ohia did on Magnolia Electric Co. Jason Tait (also of the Weakerthans) demands to be singled out as the most kickass of a kickass crew: On percussion - though that includes musical saw and banjo as well as vibraphone and a half-dozen other implements - he was off to one side and likely invisible to much of the audience. But his split-second interventions were always precise and inspired, layering extra invisible universes into the Fembots' cracked country songs.

In Saturday's lineup, Montreal's Aids Wolf made for a raucous, sexy start, with the kind of herky-jerky noise rock that I can never resist, and choreography to match, though at times I thought I'd like to subtract about half the rock to make more room for the noise. I was especially thrilled to be seeing Lenin I Shumov for the first time - they went straight to my pleasure centres with their Georgia-via-Amsterdam Russian punk-jazz; there was so much going on that it is difficult to recall isolated elements, which only means that (a) I have to see them much more; and (b) they should hasten to a recording studio. Controller.Controller remains not my cup of tea.

The Barcelona Pavilion's first post-Maggie MacDonald performance, with new co-vocalist Vanessa, was a mixed success: The first few songs were played behind a white sheet, so the band loomed like ghosts, or giants, in silhouette. It was striking and memorable - but we were all thankful when the sheet came down, because a physical Brechtian barrier between performer and spectator doesn't exactly suit a band whose fight song is How Are You People Going to Have Fun If None of You People Ever Participate?

It was difficult not to compare this set to the last Wavelength BP appearance, Maggie's penultimate performance and one of the most riotous, exhilirating shows I've attended in a long long time, but it's also not fair -- that was an experienced foursome kicked up to new highs by tension and anger and sadness and an adamant refusal to capitulate to those emotions. This was a new unit working out what it is now and can be. Vanessa seemed rather tentative until the last couple of songs, and shyness simply isn't part of the Barcelona Pavilion playbook (quizzical remoteness and robotic self-discipline in the process of wild collapse, yes; shyness, no). But she got over the hump in those last numbers. Her voice is a much more musical organ than anything else in the band, quite a bit more melodic than Maggie's, so the potential for interplay between her mellifluous flow and Steve Kado's hoarse hortatory orations seems endless. The question is only how the band can keep up its conceptual integrity while evolving into new forms.

One thought there: Bassist Kat seemed to be edging into a less anonymous and more leading role at points during this set, as if she had wanted to join in on choruses and help direct the theatrics; and laptop-beat-builder Ben stole the show for a minute when he started looking around and scratching his head in open bewilderment (or maybe itchiness). I think a more fully engaged four-way dynamic could open up a lot of ground, at a time when the previous central drama of the Barcelona Pavilion (a kind of psychic cage match between the two lead vocalists that dared the audience to take a side or break it up or do whatever else we were driven to do) can't be replicated and hasn't yet been replaced.

Having said far more than you probably wanted to know, I'll just congratulate the Wavelength team on a brilliant birthday party. Can't wait till next year - and next Sunday.

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 16 at 3:46 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

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Posted by dan on June 3, 2005 7:47 AM

 

 

hmmm, I don't know about Zolius' assertion that Magnus didn't have their Fela down @Wavelength, I think they were incredibly accurate...and far better musicians than most on the bill...what Kuti do you listen to Zolius? Maybe afrobeat 'aint yer thing there, review boy 'cause I think you missed the mark- that or you need to listen to yer Fela records more often.

Posted by Kevin P. on April 2, 2004 4:07 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson