Halifax Pop Explosion 2004 Halifax NS — November 4 to 6, 2004

Halifax Pop Explosion 2004 Halifax NS — November 4 to 6, 2004

By Scott Reid, Iain K. MacLeod and Carsten Knox Atomic Machettes Having to overcome one of the dumbest band names in the festival, along with an early evening slot that saw them playing to 20 people, was a battle the band seemed willing to take on. They muscled through a series of ordinary thrash punk songs, the capable drummer and Rollins-style shouter breaking up the tedium a little with their efforts. The dapper motorcycle dudes in the front seemed impressed, as one of them shouted when the band left the stage, "I've already posted your album on the Internet!" CK Beat Material Somewhere between a revisiting of early King Cob Steelie or a venomous Do Make Say Think (right down to the two-drummer attack), Halifax's Beat Material played a blistering set, as hypnotising to watch as it was to hear. Their fluid songs were loosely tied together with math rock precision and a continually unpredictable series of climaxes. The only regrettable part of the all-too-brief set was the grunted delivery of the inapposite vocals, which often served to take the focus away from the percussion-heavy instrumentation, which was made extremely clear as the band's real selling point. SR Amy Campbell One of Halifax's most prominent folkies at the moment, Amy Campbell certainly has a beautiful way with a guitar. She needn't have sung a note, as her graceful, Joni Mitchell-esque playing absolutely hypnotises. She complained her between-song banter wasn't up to snuff, though she managed a little witty self-deprecation on the "depressing" quality of her songs. Campbell does sing a collection of sad relationship tunes in a voice one could fall in love with. CK Choke Halifax has been waiting for Choke. As the band ignited their second song of the night, "Recoil," they needn't have bothered singing as the audience of young Haligonian punkers had the choruses well in hand. Sophisticated changes and wordy songs made for an advanced lesson in more mature punk, with the music always tethered by flashing melody over the propulsive beat. Eight years on the road pays off with a higher quality of sound and tightness between the players, no doubt. CK controller.controller Making all the other acts arrayed before and after them sound at best under-rehearsed and at worst, amateurish, Controller.Controller swept in to Halifax fully formed. They are the real deal, floating some dangerous, spooky music. Though they ride a resurgence of new wave sounds, they don't so much regurgitate as channel the future as seen from the 1984 spirit of bands like PIL, War-era U2, and even the Fixx. Lead singer Nirmala Basnayake is tiny but has a powerful voice, much bigger live than the album would indicate. If a certain sameness crept into the set half a dozen songs in, at least it's their own signature sameness. CK The Hold Visually, the band strikes with its twitchy, bald lead singer and female bassist (and lead screamer on one song). With her lovely white dress and aloof presence, it seemed as if she'd strolled in from another movie altogether. They annihilated about a dozen songs in a 20-minute set, with some less than 20 seconds long. They briefly got the crowd on their side by dedicating a song called "They're All Dead" to the people in the States who voted for Bush. Overall though, there was a lot of pissed off sounds with little real impact, as reflected in the mostly uninvolved audience of meaty beer-renters. CK The Holy Shroud Rarely does a band match the sheer intensity of their volume with the dexterity of their musicianship. Especially the ones that get tagged "super-group," in this case the merging of equal parts North Of America (two sets of vocals and guitars) and Contrived (the rhythm section). Clad in white from neck to toe, these Holy men of rock revision delivered one of the tightest, most energetic sets of the event. The group's ability to steer through a set of energetic songs will probably go unmatched until the audience hears them again. IKM The Illuminati The trio hit the stage just before midnight, pulverising the crowd to its boots with a thundering barrage of speed rock broken up by prog changes that stopped on a dime and instantly warped into odd, fun-lovin' boogie tunes. Bassist Nick Sewell's red weapon had been assassinated by the brown one the night before (it's a long story), so there was already blood between the strings. The band's massive riffs forced their way into the heads of the devoted, displacing vital fluids, brain matter and pus all over the floor. No one who heard them was left unmarked by the enormous crush of the Illuminati's sound. The casualties were huge, but in a good way. CK Les Mods Is boogie taking over Montreal? These dudes make a case for it, as they ploughed through a bunch of Southern-inflected rock tunes. Imagine a Québécois version of the Hives, without the monochromatic wardrobe, and you'd be getting close to the impression these cats give in a live setting. It's a vibe much broader than their lo-fi studio effort, Bang Sister Bang, would suggest. The keyboard plays a stronger role on stage, balanced with a great bass sound. Overall, Les Mods are a formidable young rock ensemble that a few years on the road should hone to a jagged edge. CK The Lighthouse Choir Though plagued by a few technical problems (the violin was barely audible, even after requests to have it higher in the mix) and a few off-key notes, the Choir more than rose to the occasion, tearing through a completely solid set with all three of the group's vocalists trading turns conjuring the likes of the Decemberists, M. Ward and even, for the set opener, subdued post-rock. An unbelievably promising beginning for a band yet to even record together as a group. SR The Organ Perhaps following controller.controller wasn't the best idea for the Organ's second Halifax Pop Explosion performance. Excuses could have been made for it being an afternoon show but controller's defiantly incredible stage energy made the Organ's dead-pan presence seem almost non-existent. Singer Katie Sketch, like the songs themselves, sounded great, but she often showed the band's only signs of life, failing to engage an eager and willing audience. Enjoyable, but it was hard to not walk away feeling disappointed. SR Evalyn Parry Who would have thought a festival including a gay church troupe and Mexican wrestlers would find one of its most esoteric and divisive acts in a 20-something singer/songwriter from Toronto? But as Perry strolled onto the stage dressed as a maxi pad, she left little doubt that something, um, unique was about to unfurl. Political ranting about lawn care and capitalism over faux-jazz continued to carve her ridiculously singular niche, but she did eventually digress into a far more accessible folk-centric trio of songs featuring brother Richard (from the Arcade Fire) for the set's end. While the results were much easier to swallow, it's hard to turn back once you've paraded about as a pad, no matter how sincere your art may be. SR The Porcelain Gods One of many locals playing the Festival, the Porcelain Gods remain one of the few acts that aptly balance a huge range of independent pop, from Jonathon Richman's eccentric rock to Sea & Cake's geeky math-pop and even defunct East Coast staples like Thrush Hermitt or the Super Friendz. The five-piece had no problem holding their audience captivated, giving the afternoon set a much needed dose of accessible and intelligent songwriting that kept gimmickry and melodrama to a minimum and the hooks steady. SR She Kills Making Slayer look like a bunch of pansies, She Kills is a band for people who like music bereft of any kind of melody or structure beyond brutal, chest-bashing rhythms pumped out by super-distorted guitars and drums. Who knows what the songs are about, aside from pure aggression? With no sense of consonants, let alone lyrics, the lead howler screamed through the set. Machine guns and jackhammers make a more articulate sound. Those who are into this stuff will love these guys, the rest will be left scratching their heads and protecting their hearing. CK Wax Mannequin The only band he had was wrapped tightly around his head but this manlike Mannequin still tore through songs like he tears through his many rock poses. He wears his guts on his sleeve and isn't afraid to "meow" his way through a harmony or two while his obedient drum machine kicks along to the beat. He built his songs up with both his kung-fu grip guitar playing and dynamic facial expressions that laid the foundation for the words. Lyrically, he touched on Ween-worthy topics like royalty, doctors and the art of rocking. The priceless "The Price" ended things with portions of the audience cheering and others just scratching various befuddled parts. IKM