Evolve Antigonish, NS July 25 to 27

One of the first things you’ll notice about Evolve is the variety of concertgoers. There are shirtless dudes making high-fives while drinking cans of American beer. Tenting right next to them are swarms of earthy hippies with red-eyed gazes. Add the odd hipster type and folks who look like they’re putting on a tie-dyed shirt for the first time this year, and you’ve got the makings of a massive party. There’s no denying Evolve is a fun time for all involved as a let-loose-and-boogie event full of positive sentiments and sloganeering ("Un Fuck The World” reads one of the many placards you’ll see outside tents). But as a music festival, it’s a bit muddled. There was top-notch talent for sure. Trouble is, the Maritime-based acts that played alongside those extraordinary bands felt startlingly ordinary by comparison. Battles were certainly as mesmerizing live as on their densely layered studio recordings. Opening with "Race:Out,” the closer to 2007’s Mirrored, their set got off to a showy start as their three-guitar attack traded riffs in quick succession, all reigned in by drummer John Stanier’s sturdy backbeat. Watching them in the flesh makes one wonder how they manage to piece together such a unique sound. As expected, !!! had a high-energy set that fortunately only touched on the best tracks from last year’s Myth Takes alongside songs from Louden Up Now and some tasty newbies. The undisputable highlight of the weekend though was the madcap insanity of Man Man. Their avant-gypsy rock style was well received, as they bounced up and down while they played (drummer included), bringing a heavy element of fun to the festival that more serious-minded bands like Battles simply could not match. Moving beyond that trio, matters got dicier. !!! were followed on Friday night by the evening’s closing band, Cape Breton’s Slowcoaster, a middle-of-the-road pop rock group with light touches of reggae, which felt anti-climatic as the headliner. The next evening’s headliner, Jimmy Swift Band, followed sets by Man Man and Battles. How a band gets to be a headliner while writing such horrible hard rock songs along with so-so dance numbers is beyond my comprehension. Excluding the energetic performance of Hey Rosetta! and a muscular set by Tomcat Combat, the Maritime groups represented at the festival simply could not come close to par.