Published May 23, 2011Now in its second year, Long Live the Queen wears its crown as Halifax's shortest-distance music festival, with a stretch of a mere one block between the main venues, which proved ideal for the wintery temperatures gracing the Maritimes this Victoria Day weekend. Though many of the organizers now live in Toronto, the festival is more akin to the small-town vibe of Sackville, NB's SappyFest than NXNE.
Thursday kicked off the festival with a folk show in the early evening and a rock show at night. Sean Nicholas Savage is one of the most innovative young songwriters in the country, but compared to other sets where he's been accompanied by backing vocals, costumes and effects, his festival set seemed weak in delivery, his unplugged acoustic guitar scarcely audible and his lyrics barely remembered. Montreal's Play Guitar may have started out at Halifax venues like Gus' Pub, but it seems the band's sound has outgrown the venue's small stage. Rattling through a new wave-y set of new songs, bassist Kerri Landry's vocals alternately channelled Isaac Brock and Siouxsie Sioux. They finished off with frontman Christian Simmons stealing part of brother Jef's drum set and a cover of "Burning Down the House," a prelude to the band's Sunday morning Talking Heads cover set.
There's something melancholic in the upbeat sounds of Toronto three-piece RatTail, who played Gus' Friday night. Jasmyn Burke's distinctive vocals make the band, her voice both warm and scratchy like a vinyl record. The vocals were frequently a bit too quiet, but the arrangements where her voice was front and centre were where the band really shined. Fellow Torontonians Little Girls followed with the longest, loudest and smoothest set of the evening, the drummer hammering away expertly as heads bobbed. Headlining locals Bike Rodeo kept up the vibe with their brand of garage rock.
Early evening Saturday was a true Halifax punk reunion, with now ex-Haligonian Ian Hart fronting his old band, hardcore act Envision, starting a mosh pit and covering songs by beloved local '90s punk group FYM. The city's punk and ex-punk population gathered for a reunion show by '90s favourites the Chitz, who broke up in 1998, playing to an audience ranging from their own parents to kids who weren't born yet when the band broke up. "These songs are too fast. What was I thinking?" vocalist Cara MacDonald exclaimed midway through the set. But it didn't slow down the band, or the enthusiasm in the room, at all.
The excitement was less violently matched when SISTER, sisters Carla and Lynette Gillis of Plumtree and bandmates, played selections off their latest EP at Gus' later on, the bar jammed with the Gillis sisters' old and new fans alike as the band's electro-folk lit up the room.
Sunday brought breakfast burritos at a cover band brunch with Play Guitar as the Talking Heads and Jenocide performing as Blondie, with a final show later on headlined by Bahamas. Watching Afie Jurvanen's interaction with the audience, it's not hard to see why he's developed such a following. Playing sad love songs on solo guitar, Jurvanen improvised for the rest of his absent backing band and suggested one song would be great backing YouTube cat videos, subbing in meows instead of lyrics. He closed off with a cover from a '90s country tape he keeps in his car, providing a warm-hearted finale to a warm-hearted festival.