Published Sep 15, 2013Hamilton's annual music and arts extravaganza, Supercrawl, is the very definition of a local success story. After starting out in its first year with just 3,000 attendees, this year saw four blocks of James Street shut down, with an estimated attendance of over 100,000 people in attendance.
Starting off day one was Hamilton's Engine Empire. Their blend of upbeat indie rock was a good way to begin the festival. Ania Fritch's soaring vocals combined with majestic guitar lines made for a powerful opening statement. Montreal's Suuns delivered a tight set that started off as a wall of distorted noise. As they progressed through their songs, the keyboard became the star player, adding groovy beats to create an utterly enchanting set in which the band members were just as in the zone as the audience was.
The audience loved Quebec act Les Trois Accords, and with good reason. Their power-pop songs were reminiscent of Weezer. The crowd knew the words, evident particularly during their performance of "Saskatchewan" that had the audience screaming back the words. "J'aime Ta Grammaire" was another highlight of their set, with lead singer Simon Proulx singing at the top of his lungs.
Young Galaxy provided the most dance-inducing set of the night. The band were all smiles as they played through their synth-infused set. Early on, the band played Ultramarine's "Pretty Boy" with its unique synth line and emotional vocal delivery from Catherine McCandless, who always looked utterly absorbed by the music. McCandless wasn't the only star player — Stephen Ramsay's enthusiastic stage banter was endearing, and he even planted a kiss on McCandless' cheek during one song. The high point for the band was their performance of the tropical "Fall For You," which had all of the band members contributing vocals during the chorus; the audience danced along accordingly.
Wintersleep headlined the first night, and Paul Murphy and co. got straight into business, launching into their distorted-guitar-filled set. They chose to relegate their mega-hit "Weighty Ghost" to the middle of the set, providing a lighter break before the heavy guitars returned later on. A few songs following "Weighty Ghost," the audience finally started to lose themselves. "Oblivion" saw the band's energy reach its peak, and they ended their set with the sinister guitar riffs of Untitled's "Danse Macabre."
Day two was a much busier affair, with bands playing from noon to midnight on five stages. Over on the Hamilton Community Foundation/Exclaim! Stage, the day got off to a start with Hamilton's noise-rock band WTCHS. Their wall of relentlessly loud rock gave early attendees a taste of what would come during the back-to-back hardcore assault of METZ and Fucked Up later on in the night. Doldrums went on next, changing the energy with their dreamy, synth-y numbers.
Rock would take over again after, with Vancouver's the Pack A.D.. The duo of Maya Miller and Becky Black is always a pleasure to listen to, and their chemistry is undeniable. They ripped through a set of the high-energy rock they're known for, ending their set with new single "Battering Ram" and then "Sirens," the roaring Unpersons track. Brooklyn's X Ambassadors brought a different indie-rock energy to the stage. The band members rotated between guitars and keys and even saxophones, putting in a varied and powerful set that featured everything from heavy percussion to synth-filled tracks.
Sandro Perri's set was particularly impressive to watch, as he and his bandmates also shifted instruments a lot; bandmate Mike Smith switched between guitars, keyboards and flutes. The backing percussion section was also a treat, with one permanent drummer and another who played the conga and a stand-up drum. The constantly shape-shifting performance an artistic highlight. The Brooklyn invasion continued with Speedy Ortiz, another band that never stuck to one sound. Half the time they played loud, noise-rock numbers; the other, infectious pop tracks.
Diamond Rings proved to be the pop highlight of the day. John O'Regan and his bandmates were the life of the party, filling the stage with a blend of hard-hitting synth lines and occasionally a wall of guitars. No longer having to run around the stage playing every instrument like he did with Diamond Rings' earlier incarnation, O'Regan was free to move around the stage as much as he wanted, often adding interpretative dance moves that encouraged the audience to do the same. The set was heavy with material from last year's Free Dimensional, though O'Regan did provide a dance break with the emotional "It's Not My Party."
The rock assault began with Chelsea Light Moving, the alt-rock outfit of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. Their sprawling set was always technically competent, often featuring long stretches of guitar instrumentals, though their set really began to pick up when their songs veered into punk-rock territory. "Lip," with its lyrics written during the Occupy Wall Street protests, was a powerful, snarling number. "This song is epic," Moore said, before introducing a number called "No Go" that was perhaps the most relentlessly aggressive number. Later, bass player Samara Lubelski switched to a violin, and somehow the seemingly gentle instrument only added to the band's noisy furor.
Things got even louder when Toronto's METZ took the stage. Their unapologetic assault of heavy guitars and crashing drums predictably opened up a mosh pit right from the get-go, and it was clear that the band was putting their entire being into every second of music they played. Guitarist and vocalist Alex Edkins was soon dripping with sweat as he screamed out their songs, and drummer Hayden Menzies matched the ferocity of the guitars with his crushing drums.
The night ended with a headlining set from Fucked Up, introduced by Vish Khanna as one of the best punk bands in Canada, if not the world. The audience seemed to agree, as the band took to the stage to raucous applause. Damian Abraham started the set by calling Hamilton the birthplace of punk and then launched into their opening number, which had him swinging his mic but still managing to hit every vocal line. A Fucked Up show is as much physical as it is sonic; it didn't take long for Abraham's shirt to come off, and he spent most of the set performing in the crowd, hugging and kissing fans and occasionally climbing onto speakers. While Abraham is nearly impossible to look away from lest you miss his antics, his backing band provides the solid musical core that makes Fucked Up so great. The band members provided pleasant vocals that made for an effective counterpoint to Abraham's growl. Abraham even had the audience sing parts of songs with him, like on "I Hate Summer" and "The Other Shoe," which had the audience screaming "Dying on the inside" back at him.
The set was a culmination of a sentiment that many bands had echoed throughout both days — that Hamilton truly has something special going on. No matter who took the stage, everybody there was enthusiastic and wholeheartedly embraced what was thrown at them. As Abraham admitted: "We don't have anything like this in Toronto."
See more photos from the fest here.