Published May 25, 2016Wolf Parade have nothing to prove. Following ten years and three great albums, the Montreal four-piece have solidified themselves as Canadian indie rock royalty, so when they returned to Toronto last night (May 24) for the first of five shows at Lee's Palace after a half-decade hiatus, one could have forgiven them a little for resting on their laurels and playing it safe.
But they did no such thing. Right from the get go, it was clear that this was no retirement tour. The tone was set by opening act Holy Fuck, themselves veterans of the mid-aughts indie scene. The Toronto dance-punk crew brought one punishing groove after another, pushing Lee's sound system to its limits and perhaps flummoxing some listeners who came for the more accessible and melodic elements of the main event.
They wouldn't have to wait long, as Wolf Parade soon marked their appearance with the gorgeous "Soldier's Grin" off 2008's underrated At Mount Zoomer. The next track, fan favourite "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son," took the crowd to yet another level, provoking fist pumps and gang vocals, no easy feat considering singer/keyboardist Spencer Krug's Bowie-on-speed stylings.
Wolf Parade have always profited from the tension between Krug's idiosyncrasies and the indie-rebel cool of vocalist/guitarist Dan Boeckner. Here, Krug seemed to let Boeckner steal the show, content to anxiously poke at his keyboards as his bandmate channelled Strummer and Springsteen. Boeckner was especially electric vocally, seamlessly oscillating between solemn crooning ("Language City," "Modern World") and passionate pleading ("Shine a Light").
That isn't to say Krug didn't have his moments. His anxiety-inducing rock'n'roll sea shanty "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts" drew some of the largest cheers of the night, while the equally excellent "What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go This Way) will surely make fans revisit the band's often overlooked third album, Expo '86.
Admittedly, the show wasn't perfect. The band's new material felt pleasant but not essential, provoking a sort of mini-lull in the audience. The four-piece seemed to sense this, with Boeckner even comparing the reception of their new songs at previous shows to the famous "I was saying 'boourns'" scene from The Simpsons. Though these songs were by no means boo-worthy, they did cost Wolf Parade some momentum. Then again, these might be the sing-alongs of five years from now.
In any case, when you have an all-world ballad like "I'll Believe in Anything" in your back pocket, you don't need any momentum. The place exploded from the moment the opening synths rang out, and only got more nuts from there. This was Wolf Parade at their best, with Krug's fiery vocal lead matching Boeckner's soaring guitar and Arlen Thompsons thunderous drums blow for blow.
Add in Boeckner's sublime "This Heart's On Fire" and Mount Zoomer closer "Kissing the Beehive" to bat clean-up in the encore and you have one hell of a comeback show. Welcome back, Wolf Parade. You've been missed.