Published Jun 05, 2016Halifax psych-rock quartet Walrus make music that sounds timeless, in the sense that pinning down eras of influence is often tricky. In their sound you can hear '80s college rock, early '70s jam-rock and late '60s psychedelia, often careening up against one another wildly within a single song.
There was no mistaking what era they were aiming for, though, when they invited Ian McGettigan to the stage halfway through their EP release show in Halifax Saturday night (June 4). McGettigan, best known for his time in iconic '90s Halifax band Thrush Hermit, helped mix said EP, the four-song Goodbye Something, released on Dan Mangan's Madic Records label this spring. Adding to the celebratory atmosphere of the show — friends and family members filling the room — McGettigan took to the mic and sang along with Walrus guitarist/vocalist Justin Murphy and his bandmates as they launched into an energetic cover of Hermit's 1997 classic "On the Sneak."
The set, on the whole, was a showcase for Walrus's musical playfulness. Opening with Goodbye Something's opening track, "Wearing It," the band's performances were full of sudden turns and charmingly unexpected detours, tracks that would toss aside pop hooks in their middle eights for something harsh and blunt. Murphy's vocals often twisted from an arresting falsetto to a more focused yelp, often harmonizing wonderfully with fellow guitarist (and fellow Justin) Justin McGrath. From EP material like "Fur Skin Coat" to older tracks like "Save My Soul," the set's energy stayed high even when the songs played woozy, their jangly guitar lines dancing around the hazy, smoky stage.
The woozy side of Walrus's set was a nice bookend to the engagingly swoon-worthy songs of Halifax's Jeremy Costello and his Special Costello project, which opened the show. In between, the East Coast crowd was treated to two West Coast treats: Victoria's Painted Fruit and New Westminster British Columbia's Johnny de Courcy, who now calls Montreal home. (Painted Fruit also served as de Courcy's backing band, switching out their post-punk wardrobe for makeup-adorned glam.)
Painted Fruit's sharp, biting guitar riffs sounded as if they were ripped out of 1980 and reattached, perfectly aligned with the modern era. The Joy Division echoes were unmistakable (ironically, one of the band's best performances was a song called "No Substance") and their shout-along vocals were a highlight, both on their own material and a set-closing cover of Devo's "Whip It."
Tall, lanky and eminently watchable, Johnny de Courcy began his set with an ear-catching solo piano performance before bounding across the stage with Painted Fruit on theatrical, catchy material like "Angel of Death" and "Amélie."
Walrus tried to call de Courcy back to the stage during their encore, but he was apparently no longer in the building. Much of Painted Fruit and others in the crowd did join the band, though, for a rollicking cover of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream." It was a performance that, closer to Bowie's passing, would have been tinged with sadness. Months removed, it was perfectly in sync with the night's feeling of timelessness and celebration.