Kuato Gus' Pub, Halifax NS, October 22

Kuato Gus' Pub, Halifax NS, October 22
Photo: Ali Seglins
How do you a shut up a chatty crowd? Distract them with bright lights.

I'm only being slightly facetious here: one of the perils of a multi-venue music festival like HPX is you have friends old and new, bouncing between sets at multiple locations across the city, ready to ignore the band and resume their conversations at their first flirtation with disinterest. Already, after two nights, I've stood through a couple sets where, if you were more than a few feet back from the stage, all you could hear was a wall of gab.

For an instrumental band like Halifax's Kuato, whose slow-building compositions recall post-rock icons like Mogwai and Tortoise, there's no frontman banter or vocal acrobatics available to them as weapons against the chatter. They have their noise — oh, do they have noise — but their best songs also demand quiet at times. The band's secret trick, then, is their light show: simple (just a single rig, manually controlled from the side of the stage) but incredibly effective. At Gus', it kept the band moodily, mysteriously backlit most of the time, but would change colour and focus with shifts in the music. It gave the audience a small but crucial visual element to grasp onto, to ride with the band through each wave of crashing, overwhelming sound.

This is good, because Kuato deserved every bit of the crowd's attention. Their latest album, The Great Upheaval, is impressive in its own right but truly comes to life in the live show, where the swirling guitars of a song like "Groundwork" achieve a physical, overwhelming sense of mass. Best of all, unlike many who've trod a similar musical path, Kuato don't trade away their hooks in the name of atmospherics — when their songs peak, they remain catchy, engaging, enticing.