LOLA Featuring Final Fantasy, Akron/Family, Growing, Polar Bear London, ON September 17 to 20

LOLA Featuring Final Fantasy, Akron/Family, Growing, Polar Bear London, ON September 17 to 20
Since its 2006 inception, the London Ontario Live Arts (LOLA) festival has built a reputation on innovative programming and constant growth. For LOLA 2009, it took a giant leap forward by adding a second stage.

The Heineken TransMedia Stage featured performers established in visual art and music, showcasing their multidisciplinary performances. The Rogers Main Stage was home to artists who explored composition, but in a more traditional pop/indie sensibility. Performances were staggered, giving the audience the chance to toggle between the two.

London, ON's A Horse and His Boy, who've just released their debut, kicked off LOLA and proved Canada is going to hear a lot of them soon. Bruce Peninsula followed, and while scheduled too early, delivered an intense, vocal-driven vintage sound. Closing the first night was Akron/Family, who have sonically floored LOLA audiences both times they've played the festival. This time, they were flanked by members of Slaraffenland, who came all the way from Copenhagen and had already impressed earlier in the evening. Their cerebral performance aptly punctuated the evening.

Of note on the TransMedia stage Friday was the legendary Nihilist Spasm Band, who in spite of their years still manage to push boundaries, challenging listeners to deconstruct convention in music.

It seemed odd that LOLA is four years old and the Don Wright Faculty of Music (UWO) were involved for the first time. The four percussionists and six pianists certainly were not out of place starting Saturday and led into the next act Canaille, a jazz ensemble from Toronto. Over on the TransMedia stage, Polar Bear's Leafcutter John added wonderful aural landscapes to the sun-soaked listeners.

The main stage then saw the likes Elfin Saddle, down to a two-piece, still mystify with their brand of spooky, Japanese folk. Straight from the UK, avant-jazz artists Polar Bear were nothing short of amazing.

Brooklyn's Growing laid down a thick electro beat that drew everyone in the park to a dusk-lit dance at the TransMedia stage, setting the tone with the appropriate amount of anticipation for the jewel in the LOLA '09 crown: Final Fantasy. As in LOLA '07, Owen Pallett again overloaded the bandshell with people, floored by his lush vocal layers. The festival closed with Ann Arbor, MI's NOMO, whose sax-driven groove carried on after the soundboard was cut - the band played on out in the audience.

With the scale and trajectory of LOLA, the '09 edition of the festival served notice that it only desires to get better. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who attended to disagree that it didn't do just that.