by Michael Thomas
Supercrawl, now in its seventh year, is arguably one of the best free music and art festivals you’ll find anywhere. Lineups are frequently jaw-dropping and are augmented by a fleet of food trucks and vendors selling everything from art prints to high fashion.
This year Supercrawl took a bit of a beating; by virtue of being outside, it was exposed to the elements—namely rain, and lots of it. And though the rain eventually ended up wreaking havoc on some shows (you would have been awesome, Royal Canoe!) there was still plenty to see.
My experience started Saturday afternoon with Frog Eyes. The drum/guitar setup for Carey Mercer and Melanie Campbell used may not seem terribly innovative, but Mercer’s distinct vocal style and lyrics make each song feel like its own epic. Each song was a lyrical labyrinth, and in between songs Mercer joked about Hamilton needing gentrification and the death of capitalism.
The two “big” stages on James St. were considerably far apart (at least 10 minutes of walking between them) so it was nearly impossible to catch full sets at both. I did, however, get to see a sizeable amount of Guh, a band made of far too many members to name. This particular performance saw seven members take the stage—when I arrived they were deep into a song full of brass and bagpipes. The instrumental insanity eventually gave way to a few with vocals, and flirted between genres like jazz and pop. Frequently weird and wonderful, Guh were inspiring.
Back at the other stage, Vancouver’s Humans proved that their dancefloor-ready set didn’t have to be in a dimly-lit venue. Outdoors their tunes flowed freely, and as usual with few gaps in between. The dark electronic numbers were hypnotic on their own, but it was refreshing to see Robbie Slade and Peter Ricq not being automatons as it all went on, frequently switching places, bopping around and trading vocals.
I only caught the last two songs from The Elwins, but it’s hard to say anything original about them at this point — as usual, their high-energy performance and buoyant pop had the audience enthralled.
Etiquette was apparently a last-minute addition to the Exclaim stage but nothing felt rushed about their performance. Anchored by Julie Fader and Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh, they set the tone with a few dramatic, slow-burning, synth-infused numbers. As the songs went on, they started to pick up the pace, even bringing on Hamiltonian Terra Lightfoot to sing a song with them. Their last two songs were pure awesome, the first a lengthy but fast-paced instrumental song that wouldn’t have felt out-of-place in a Holy Fuck show. The final song got people dancing.
Rain was starting to come down heavily, but that didn’t stop Rah Rah over on the other stage. I would estimate I caught about half their set, and the Regina band constantly kept things interesting with three vocalists, a cavalcade of electronics and the odd bits of strings here and their. The inherently celebratory pop they played had people cheering, and it got even more fun as the band put out three silver alphabet-shaped balloons into the audience (guess which letters). They ended the set with a song by Joel Passmore on vocals, a more straight-ahead but self-effacing song to show the band has a sense of humour, too.
The final act I saw on Saturday was Calgary’s Viet Cong, who need no introduction. The Women pedigree certainly didn’t hinder the band’s meteoric rise, but their live show proves why they’re such a force. Little stage banter, huge walls of sound and unmatched intensity seems to promise that anything could happen at any time. After they finished “Continental Shelf,” the rain got to be too much and the Supercrawl stages had to be temporarily shut down. Despite signs from the stage manager, Viet Cong continued to strum their guitars for a dramatic finish.
Soaked to the bone, that was it for me on Saturday. Sunday didn’t fare much better with even more rain, but I did get to see most of Michael Feuerstack. Though his introspective music doesn’t seem like the type that would make people dance, one guy did just that for the entire set, despite the rain coming down. Songs like “Glacier Love” and “The Scorekeeper” were big, emotional numbers but perhaps the most poignant moment was when Feuerstack broke out the simple song “Trees,” which he played solo. The lyrics happened to reference the rain and it was a few minutes of peaceful music against the elements.
The elements were the ultimate winner of my day, but not before I caught a few songs from Twin Within. Just as the music of Frog Eyes the day prior was labyrinthine, so too was their music, built on two sets of vocals (and plenty more vocalizations). Each song felt like sitting down and listening to a sailor tell a winding (but ultimately harrowing) story, and had I seen the whole set, I would have no doubt fallen under their spell.
At that point the rain was too much, and I packed it in. But even as it rained and poured, Supercrawl still rocked.