Published Feb 16, 2013Passing through the grand wooden doors of the Great Hall sets up expectation of a certain level of grandeur, so it's a strange feeling to turn right down a set of dank stairs into the venue basement, where Doldrums, Cadence Weapon and Blue Hawaii topped the Wavelength festival bill for the night. It feels like a secret passage to a dangerous underground, but that's stupid: there is nothing dangerous about any of the bands playing, and, increasingly, there is nothing underground, either.
As Wavelength has grown through the years, so has its reputation for championing the finest musical talent Canada has to offer. Tonight that meant acts that ranged from Polaris favourites to buzzed-about up-and-comers.
Hometown quintet Blonde Elvis, led by the bratty, sharp-witted Jesse Laderoute, call themselves glam rock, but live, they came across a little more Brit-poppy, recalling the keen melodic sense of Parklife-era Blur and the exuberance of Elvis Costello. A kaleidoscopic background and cloud of reverb lent an air of psychedelia to the proceedings, and the sense of humour apparent in songs like "This One Is Free" and in Laderoute's self-deprecating commentary made for an all-around excellent set.
A debut Toronto showing for Braids singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston's new project, Blue Hawaii, started slowly, but when she faded from her sweet falsetto to her captivating, full-throated wail, and Alex Cowan (aka Agor) dropped a pounding bass beat, the crowd came to life. Fans danced and moved in unison to the duo's wonderfully beat-heavy, atmospheric take on tracks from their anticipated sophomore release, Untogether, and when the roomed cleared shortly afterwards, it was clear that they had provided major draw for the sold-out show.
Follow-up act Cadence Weapon (Rollie Pemberton) provided an infusion of energy to a tiring crowd, but his efforts seemed desperate at times, if only because his Manitoba-hailing DJ kept blasting an annoying air horn and dancing like an embarrassing dad. It was unclear if it was planned, but he provided his oddball version of "hype" during Pemberton's "Hype Man," and rather than lending humour, overwhelmed the performance.
Headliner Doldrums, rounded out for the first time by main man Airick Woodhead's brother Daniel and other first-time players, only got to rehearse for three hours prior to their set — and it showed. But Woodhead has always thrived on spontaneity. Their set drew heavily from his new LP, Lesser Evil, whose release the show celebrated. A thrilling early performance of new single "Anomaly" was bigger and more bass-heavy than its recorded edition, and "She Is the Wave" was downright pummelling.
Later tracks "Egypt" and "Holographic Sandcastles" were saved from utter rhythmic shambles by Woodhead's able drummer and by the band's general enthusiasm: by this point, it was 1:30, anyway, and most of the crowd was pushed up close to the stage to participate in the spectacle. Cadence Weapon, too, got in on the action to lend a freestyle, after which Woodhead performed "Jump Up," enticing the crowd to boogie and hearkening to a time when Doldrums was more about sound collage than songwriting.
Woodhead has hinted he might return to those roots, but what he does next is anyone's guess; if Doldrums' wild, unpredictable performance is anything to go by, he probably prefers it that way. If anyone had asked his late-night, dance-partying crowd, they'd surely have agreed.