Phèdre / TOPS / Zoo Owl / Alden Penner The Silver Dollar Room, Toronto ON, February 13

Phèdre / TOPS / Zoo Owl / Alden Penner The Silver Dollar Room, Toronto ON, February 13
Photo: Tiana Feng
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"We're all in this together."

Alden Penner was referring to the impromptu sound check he and his band performed onstage to kick off their set. But the sentiment doubled as a summation of Wavelength's 14-year M.O. of exposing exciting new artists and exploring interesting new sounds with an equally excited and receptive audience.

Penner, a former member of the Unicorns, fit right in, showcasing material from his just released solo debut, Exegesis. The album's shine was a bit overshadowed by the announcement that his former band would be reuniting this year, but Penner seemed unbothered by the gossip mill, even tossing in a track from his Clues project. His gentle songs of heartbreak and, apparently, lamb kebabs found a steady groove that balanced the playfulness of the Unicorns with the sonic experimentation of Clues.

Zoo Owl was a different beast altogether. The solo electronic solo project from OPOPO's Bryan Sutherland, Zoo Owl took a more confrontational approach, standing in stark contrast to Penner's bashful stage presence. The music ran the gamut of maximalist dance, from wobbling dubstep bass bursts to late '90s electronica a la the Crystal Method. But it was Sutherland himself who will most be remembered, staring down the crowd as he donned a variety of LED lighting apparatuses, including a pair of goggles that made him resemble Watchmen's Nite Owl.

Montreal's TOPS kept the stylistic divergences going, offering up an indie rock take on '80s R&B. Their sound eschews the washed out keyboard and drum loops used by too many nostalgia-mining acts in favour of one led by guitarist David Carriere's impressive lead lines. Singer Jane Perry did tinkle a set of plastic ivories, but mostly stuck to her airy, Elizabeth Frazer-esque coo. Sound problems resulted in a shaky start, with Perry in particular sounding off key, but by the mid-way point TOPS were on top (ahem) of their game.

Toronto's Phèdre closed out the night delivering their own brand of electronic grooves dipped in gold lamé. Wearing matching white hoodies and pants, April Aliermo and Daniel Lee were flanked by a friend on a drum machine, one behind a barrage of electronic gear and an interpretive dancer. Running through tracks from last year's Golden Age, at times the duo seemed more interested in the party on stage than delivering note for note renditions of their tunes. But their energy, which spilled into the crowd (as did Aliermo), was infectious, culminating in the sublime "In Decay." All in all, it was a stellar start to Wavelength's annual four-day birthday bash.

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