by Michael Thomas
The fifteenth anniversary of Toronto’s best concert series got off to a sweaty start Friday, with a cavalcade of tributes to some of Toronto’s (and the surrounding area’s) best artists, a sprawling set from a Canadian punk icon and the much-hyped reunion of dance-punks controller.controller.
Starting off the night was Skeletones Four, covering the songs of Jim Guthrie. While I’m not personally familiar with his work, the band pulled off the prolific singer-songwriter’s material to a tee and with no stage banter. Turned out Jim Guthrie was in the audience, so they must have made him proud.
The audience hadn’t totally filled in Sneaky Dee’s by the time More or Les took the stage to deliver his barrage of hip-hop classics, but he delivered a huge jolt of energy. His hyper-energetic set began with a track by Saukrates, then moved onto Kardinall Offishall, before he went rogue and did one of his own brunch-themed songs. But the party went into overdrive when he brought on frequenters of hip-hop karaoke (and the actual rapper Thrust) for the seminal Rascalz track, “Northern Touch.” The room figuratively exploded.
Laura Barrett and her new band Lockbox then took on the difficult task of covering Owen Pallett. More than once did she and the band comment on the difficulty (“Get ready to dance in multiple time signatures!” Barrett exclaimed before starting the last song) but they did admirably. Starting with “Song For Five and Six,” the band seemed a little unsteady, but started to gain composure on “Keep the Dog Quiet” and then really ripped into “Many Lives, 49 MP” for a big finish.
The next set took covers to the next level as Hervana, a Nirvana cover band, morphed into a Constantines cover band. This was definitely the most well-received set of the night—the Constantines hold a special place in a lot of people’s hearts, and Hervana beautifully translated the warmth of their music for the audience.
Wavelength founder Jonny Dovercourt admitted that Caribou’s connection to Wavelength wasn’t as strong, as Dan Snaith had only DJed one show in his Manitoba incarnation, but that didn’t make Delta Will’s take on Dan Snaith any less compelling. Charles Tilden told us recently that the band put in a lot of effort into finding out where Snaith got his samples, and the recreations were incredible. They covered all eras of Snaith, starting with a Manitoba song and then breaking out an incredible cover of last year’s “Can’t Do Without You.” Here Tilden really seemed to channel Snaith, and the audience responded in kind. It was no less than a shockwave as Tilden bounced around at his computer and the crowd went nuts.
Finally, the most lovable duo (now with a third member!) in Toronto, Most People, took on one of the most beloved Toronto acts, Broken Social Scene. While many were quick to wonder how a trio would be able to cover a band who could have 15 members on stage at a time, Most People quickly put these questions to rest. To use the old cliché, the band took Broken Social Scene’s song and made them their own. They brought Most People’s recognizable groove to classics like “Lover’s Spit” (“This song is about giving head…Happy Valentine’s Day,” Paul McEachern said) and the legendary “7/4 Shoreline.”
The tribute sets went by quickly, and a little past 11:30 it was time to switch formats. Out came the Canadian punk icon and his backing band, still packing a wallop. At 62, Bergmann still has plenty of fire in him, throwing out sarcastic remarks between songs and even asking the audience to insult him. His set was long, and it noticeably made some audience members restless, but Art Bergmann did not and does not give a shit. His rambling vocal style, a la Lou Reed, helped bring his highly political lyrics to life, and his backing band helped bring the noise. Later in the set he inspired some audience participation on “Company Store,” and he concluded his set after 80 minutes with “Drones of Democracy.”
It was past 1 a.m., but that didn’t dull down the excitement for controller.controller, who reunited for their first show in about eight years. “Does anybody remember who we are?” one of the guitarists asked early on, to deafening cheers. It took a few seconds for the audience to start dancing to the bass-driven jams, and vocalist Nirmala Basnayake brought commanding vocals to top it all off. After two songs, Ronnie Morris’ bass string broke, and after a few minutes of trying to re-string it, Most People came to the rescue and lent the band a bass guitar to use. For most other bands, this might have killed the momentum, but the audience excitement kept things from going sour.
From that point on, the band was taut and muscular and continued to get people dancing, culminating in a triumphant rendition of “Watch,” where Morris went out into the audience and played while swaying and eventually “collapsing” onto the floor. The audience cried out for more, but Basnayake told everyone they needed to go to bed, which was very true. It was past 2 a.m.!
As always, Wavelength has proven to be full of surprises. And there will likely be plenty more in store.