Published May 23, 2011The Weird Canada blog and forum, launched about two years ago by Edmonton's Aaron Levin, has served as one of few voices for the overlooked and underrepresented fringe acts that have been bursting out across the country. Since the website's inception, it has won CBC Radio 3's Best Canadian Music Site, plans to launch a record distribution wing, and now brought a pile of artists from as far as Halifax directly to the people to play fests in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
The Vancouver edition got a jolting start with a manic set of punk by locals B-Lines and Needles//Pins. The Waldorf was still filling up when Calgary's Grown-Ups ran through a set of their frenzied punk assault. But the first surprise of the night came courtesy of Montreal's guitar/drums duo Velvet Chrome, who unleashed a hellish skree of distorted guitar wrangling backed by a menacing tribal thump. The volume was incredible enough that most of the audience could be seen making small steps away from the speakers as the sound unfurled. Velvet Chrome's unassuming guitarist was later found on stage with the Coil-inspired Das Amore. The loose and out-there collective also boasted Montreal weird synth voyager Hobo Cubes, who later brought out an impressive pile electronics and saxophone for his Wyrd Fest set.
Edmonton duo Famines, who are no strangers to Vancouver, packed the smaller second stage. Their reputation for impassioned and intense live shows preceded them and the crowd pushed up as close as they could. Drawing from their numerous seven-inches, the guitar/drums duo (one of several at the fest) bashed out a short set of stutter-y garage punk and even incited the first mosh pit of the night. In less than half an hour, Famines had whipped the room into a frenzied, sweat-drenched hotbox, setting the bar high for the rest of the night.
Long Long Long, who came all the way from Halifax to play the Wyrd Fest, certainly made a name for themselves that night. Little heard outside of Nova Scotia, the four-piece held sway over the second stage with complex guitar harmonies and doubled-up vocals, resulting in a unique blend of tropical-inflected indie rock reminiscent of early Modest Mouse or even Vancouver's own No Gold. A lineup for their merch commenced as soon as they left the stage, a sure sign of newfound fandom if there ever was one.
Though Ketamines only have one seven-inch out, released by Chicago's Hozac Records, the Lethbridge, AB outfit were one of the more anticipated bands of the festival. Led by Paul Lawton, co-organizer of Wyrd III and head of the fledgling Mammoth Cave Recording Co. label, the band threw down a monster set of ultra-catchy and inventive garage rock that had the main stage writhing and shimmying. The loose set was composed of tracks from their forthcoming Dead Beat Records LP, and judging by the response of the enthusiastic crowd, their debut should take them well beyond their isolated home of Lethbridge.
The purposely impossible to pronounce Tonstartssbandht, based out of Montreal, were a last-minute surprise addition to the lineup. The duo eschewed their more experimental pop side in favour of a set that was based around a maximalist psychedelic fuzz assault that had more in common with early Black Sabbath than their more recent recordings, with brothers Andy and Edwin White laying out skull-rattling riffs, laced with vocals and drums piled with effects. Not what the crowd was probably expecting, but an awe-inspiring feat of head-clearing sonics nonetheless.
Headliners Red Mass, also hailing from Montreal, played to a diehard crowd, most of whom had been at the Waldorf for upwards of seven hours. Showing little signs of fatigue from a trek across the country combined with playing three Wyrd Fest nights in a row, Red Mass came out in full attack mode. Their slanted take on punk and new wave was further accentuated by the surprise appearance of the aforementioned Paul Lawton on guitar. Red Mass were well worth the wait and a highlight of a festival that was teeming with them.