Do Make Say Think / Evening Hymns / Sarah Neufeld / Doom Squad / Bernice Great Hall, Toronto, ON, February 16

Do Make Say Think / Evening Hymns / Sarah Neufeld / Doom Squad / Bernice Great Hall, Toronto, ON, February 16
Photo: Roberto Granados-Ocon
Night three of Wavelength's well-curated festival kicked off with eclectic Toronto pop outfit Bernice, who opened with their gorgeous, haunting ode "New Bodies." Unfortunately, the addition of soundscaper Thom Gill, whose musical presence adds atmosphere to their recorded songs, created rattling, high-register crackle in the speakers live, distracting from Bernice's otherwise pleasant set. Still, despite the sound issues, the band's Robin Dann has a wonderful voice, and their new tunes, which reveal a fondness for Tropicália, are winners.

Follow-up act Doom Squad brought new energy to the room, and though their faux-tribal getups — painted-on forehead circles, fringed vests, flowing dresses — seemed a red flag, their music passed muster. The Toronto trio whipped the crowd up early on with pulsing bass and psychedelic drones, punctuated by flute, bowed guitar and chanting by all three members. They were fine throughout, but Doom Squad are best at their fastest and heaviest, as evinced by their epic, breath-percussed take on the Doors' "Riders on the Storm."

The highlight set of the night was most certainly Sarah Neufeld, violinist for Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, whose debut solo album still has no firm release date. It can't come soon enough: Neufeld's compositions range from Reichian ("Hero Brother"), with their repetitive phrases of intensely bowed, rhythmically complex violin melodies, to folksy, without skipping a beat. Like saxophonist Colin Stetson (who, along with the Magic's Georgie Gordon, joined the violinist for her last two songs), Neufeld draws strange, wonderful sounds from her instrument; she uses violin squeals, growls, scrapes and slides to express varying emotions, and stomps the stage beneath her for percussion. Her droning duet with Stetson and Gordon (on which Neufeld sang, wonderfully) was a stately wonder, with the sax and synth providing affecting low end to her composition. The cerebral quality of her performance easily refuted her humble early claim that her set would be a "lie down in the grass" compared to the more upbeat acts that preceded her onstage.

Brooding folk outfit Evening Hymns started with a solemn, yearning ballad, sweetly harmonized between Jonas Bonnetta and Sylvie Smith, before bringing out the rest of the band for their set. Bonnetta sings softly, but through clenched teeth; he's got a songwriter's intensity that would seem put on if he weren't always so intensely focused on the music he was creating in the moment. Even when the band's trumpeter soloed, Bonnetta watched him intently, (rightly) in awe of the sound he was creating. "Moon River," a sort of anti-tribute to the famous pop standard, was a highlight in the band's set, after which even the prospect of headliners Do Make Say Think's imminence couldn't make some fans stay.

So, after a small exodus, Toronto post-rock veterans Do Make Say Think took the stage, to kick things off with & Yet & Yet fan favourite "End of Music." Their usual balance of brains and brawn was executed perfectly live, bolstered by their two-drum kit setup. Anyone who finds the band too jammy on record would be impressed by the band's incredible tightness; every beat was spot on as the group, now operating together for over a decade, have become a united performing entity.