Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halifax Pop Explosion. What a week!

Thirty hours of sleep in five days equals twenty-two bands seen at HPX. It was a jam packed, exhausting week, and I didn't even venue hop as much as I usually do. My approach to the Halifax Pop Explosion this year was to take in as many bands as I could that don't hit up the YHZ area all too frequently, with a couple of exceptions made for some of my more favourite bands. I'll start off with a list of everyone I saw, and then give you all the breakdown of the day to day action.

The bands:
Gianna Lauren, Superfriendz, Al Tuck, The Dudes (x2), Atlas Sound, The Elwins, Ambersand, Born Ruffians, Elliott BROOD, Wintersleep, The Spring Standards, Billie Dre & the Poor Boys, The Belle Comedians, The Novaks, Deer Tick, Juilie Doiron, Cold Specks, Canailles, Willie Stratton, Irreverend James & The Critical Mass Choir, and Mo Kenney. I also saw Eugene Mirman do a comedy set.

Al Tuck at The Carleton
I had the pleasure of starting off my HPX week with guest-hosting Halifax is Burning on CKDU
The Dudes at Reflections Cabaret
with my friend Trevor Murphy. From there Trevor and I went to Reflections to catch Eugene Mirman tell a few jokes. Then we went to the Carleton where my friend Gianna Lauren was playing. She did a fantastic set, and did her best to brush off the fact that a snare drum was buzzing behind her the whole time. The crowd was captivated and enthralled in her beautiful tunes, and her banter with the crowd was short and sweet. After Gianna, a piece of Halifax's musical history hit the stage in the form of the Superfriendz. Charles Wishart Austin, Mike O'Neill, Ruth Minnikin, Cliff Gibb and others took to the stage to perform some awesome cover tunes from the 90s. Once this super group was finished their short set, a disenchanted Al Tuck was front and center (although a little wobbly). This was my first time seeing Al Tuck so I'm not sure if he is always like this, but I found his set a little lack luster and he seemed more focused on his glass of whiskey and what he labelled his newfangled "folk comedy thing" then giving the crowd a set of solid tunes. The songs that Tuck did play included Hitting on Louise, There is a God, Brother From Another Mother (a personal favourite), and Pain in the Middle of the Night. I'd like to note that Tuck was accompanied by a drummer and a harmonica player, which was a nice touch. The harmonica player was especially useful for filling in whenever Tuck would pull his patch cord out by accident. She also had a collection of at least 6 harmonicas with her, and would pull the odd solo when Tuck would give her the nod. I finished the first night of HPX by heading to The Seahorse and catching The Dudes' headliner set. It was phenomenal. I had never listened to The Dudes before and I was instantly sucked into their hard hitting, body shaking, tunes. Those four dudes can rock, and I think all in the crowd would agree. After their set I, along with a couple of friends, ended up hanging out with their drummer and bassist so that the editor in chief of Acadia's student newspaper could get an interview. The two were very friendly and we all ended up going to Pizza Corner together after the interview to get some poutine.
Night two of HPX started off with some friends and I flashing our press passes and being among the very last people admitted to Saint Matthews United Church. We arrived just in time for Atlas Sound to haunt the soundwaves of the building with his extensive guitar loops. The way that guy can use a looper pedal is way beyond impressive. If you were to close your eyes you'd think there were several musicians serenading your ears at any given time. Atlas Sound chose to keep his interactions with the crowd very minimal which added to the surreal effect of his music. I don't think he could have played a more appropriate venue for his kind of music. Once that set was over we made our way over to Reflections with great excitement about seeing the Born Ruffians. When we arrived the boys from Ambersand, a rock band from the UK were doing their thing. After Ambersand we had the pleasure of seeing The Elwins. First of all, just the sight of The Elwins screams good time, especially the guy with the large mustache and small round glasses. Anyways, The Elwins gave Reflections their all, and left us using our hands as fox ears and tails, if this sounds cryptic, then you'll just have to go to one of their shows to be in the know. Also, its worth checking out their show, especially while they are currently touring with Born Ruffians just for their cover of Beyonce's Countdown.  After the Elwins, the night's secret guest came on stage, which happened to be The Dudes. So, I got to see the dudes perform again, and they did not disappoint. If anything I was more pumped about their set this time round, and being in the front row definitely helped. The Dudes rocked out and the crowd seemed to dig every minute of it. And last but not least, la piece de resistance of the night, the Born Ruffians, showed the crowd at Reflections what they were made of. They played a great combination of old and new songs and were well worth the late night. I had tweeted the band earlier in the evening asking them to play Little Garçon, which they did not, but I got a tweet later in the night apologizing for not doing so, and that was just as good, well, sort of.

Luke Lalonde of the Born Ruffians at Reflections Cabaret
Night three of HPX was home to easily one of the most anticipated shows of the week, Wintersleep at the Olympic Community Hall. We got there just in time to see Elliott BROOD rock out the hardest I've ever seen a band rock out with a banjo. It was awesome, and there were many, many people dancing their hearts out, although I think it is safe to say that quite a few of these people were either drunk or on a drug of some sort. Regardless, if you are an Elliott BROOD fan, it is a must that you go see their live show. It is an entirely different experience from listening to their music at home. They are a much more intense rock band in person and it is just mind blowing how much sound this trio bring to their show. After Elliott BROOD, Wintersleep took the stage and the crowd was in awe. They had a magnificent sound, which has transformed quite a bit over the years, and although they played predominantly newer tunes, they also snuck in a few classics like Weighty Ghost. The lighting in the venue definitely helped accentuate the surreal vibe of seeing Wintersleep play in such a venue, and it was evident that everyone in the crowd, young and old, was taking it all in and in return was belting out what seemed to be every lyric of every song. Another highlight of the Wintersleep set was the commotion caused by Dan Mangan casually walking around the venue and stopping to chat with the fans that would come up to him and request a photo. I was one of those fans, and I was just blown away by how personable, humble, and human Dan Mangan is. After the Olympic Community Hall I headed over to the Seahorse to catch whatever was left of the Spring Standards' set. I had seen the Spring Standards at HPX the previous year, and was very excited to see them again. I walked into a scene I was not expecting when I saw the crowd dancing about and heard very upbeat tempos coming from the stage. This set at the Seahorse was quite the contrast to the set I saw them do at the Company House the previous year, but it was a good time regardless. Some of the songs that the Spring Standards played included Queen of the Lot, Chicago, Unravel Unwind, Crushing Pennies and Goodbye Midnight.

Deer Tick at The Marquee
Night four of HPX was one of the nights I was least looking forward to. I was still looking forward to it obviously, but it did not have as much of a draw for me as the other nights did. I decided to take it easy on the Friday night and stick to one venue, The Marquee. I hadn't been to The Marquee since my first HPX experience in 2010, at the time it was called The Paragon, when I saw the CBC Radio 3 showcase there which had Tokyo Police Club headlining. It felt good to be back as that is a truly fantastic venue with a great vibe to it. The night started off with Billie Dre and the Poor Boys. They played a fun set, although I was not particularly moved by their music, but they are a fairly new band and after seeing so many well groomed artists, it is a bit harsh for me to compare them to the likes of The Dudes and such. After Billie Dre and the Poor Boys the Belle Comedians took the stage and played an amazing set. Although the vocals were a little fuzzy (not sure if this is because of the sound guy or the singer) the instrumentation was phenomenal. Of note were the keys player, and the guitarist name Scott. The two of them really brought the band to a whole other level and it was fantastic to see. They really got the crowd going, without even trying. After the Belle Comedians were The Novaks, and unfortunately I was really not feeling their set. The friends I was with at The Marquee promptly left after The Belle Comedians because of their distaste for The Novaks, and I regret not leaving with them. The Novaks are No good. The crowd seemed to agree with this sentiment as no one was really feeling their show. What really irked me about their songs was that in many of them, the chorus consisted of repeating the same line over and over. If you can't come up with a half decent chorus, then what can you come up with? Anyways, after The Novaks, the venue was jam packed with people very excited to see Deer Tick. The stage was illuminated with large signs reading "Deer" and "Tick" in white lightbulbs and people in the crowd had what looked to be posters for the democrat party, but with Deer Tick written on them next to the classic elephant. As for their actual set I was thoroughly impressed. Lots of subtle theatrics were used, in a very tasteful way, and the "alt country" band rocked harder then I have seen most rock bands rock. Their live show is a far cry from their album, but in the best way possible. The show was especially important for the keys player, Robbie Crowell, as he has called Halifax home for the past decade and is known to most as the sax player in the Mellotones. As a tribute to the rockers, there were the usual crowd surfers who promptly got thrown out of the venue, and the lead singer was encouraging said rebel antics by shaking a couple of cans of beer and spraying the crowd. The band closed the night with their rendition of Fight for Your Right to Party and there wasn't a person in the crowd who didn't go nuts when this happened.

Cold Specks at Saint Mattews United Church

The last night of the Halifax Pop Explosion started with one of my most anticipated shows of the week, Julie Doiron and Cold Specks at St Matthews Church. This show was made to be even more epic when I found out that a friend had saved me a seat in the front row. I got there just in time to see Julie Doiron casually walk on stage, set her tote bag aside, and plug in her guitar. She then began to talk and told the crowd about a frustrating moment that had happened to her earlier in the day. She had done the unspeakable thing, she had read comments on the internet about her upcoming album. She was a little flustered about one commentator in specific who was fairly harsh on Julie's work. She continued to rant about this event throughout the show, but in the most endearing way possible. She claimed to be "killing the vibe" with her rambling, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind. Among the songs she played were Me & My Friends, Consolation Prize, No More, and Snowfalls in November. She skillfully used the mic when necessary and pulled away from it for proper effect, and seemed very at ease playing for the crowd. It was clear that Doiron is no spring chicken when it comes to these sorts of gigs, and it was delightful to see this very humble artist do her thing. After Doiron, the 2012 Polaris Music Prize shortlister took the stage, and the crowd in the church instantly went silent. Cold Specks was much more engaged with the crowd then I expected her to be, and was very casual yet professional throughout her whole set. She informed the crowd that she recently made a vow to never play solo again, and told us that we would be the last group of people to ever see her play solo. It was quite the privilege to be in her presence and to take in all that she had to offer. She ventured away from the mic many times and the acoustics in the church did not let her down. She even ventured beyond her own repertoire when she did a short rendition of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song. She stuck that one in there after claiming that her album is "fucking depressing". The songs she played included The Mark, We Are Many, Elephant Head (which she claims is her favourite on the album), Steady, Lay Me Down (which she categorized "as depressing as they come", and many others. It was truly a beautiful experience and was easily one of my favourite HPX shows, ever. After Cold Specks I was feeling in a mellow mood, so instead of heading to the Black Keys show I decided to hit up my go to HPX venues, the Bus Stop Theatre, and the Company House. At the Bus Stop I got the chance to see the square dance inspiring group Canailles which was a real treat. The foot-stomping bluegrass vibe that this band has going on is unreal, and the crowd was really into it. Their cute broken English banter was embraced by the crowd and it was nice to see a band from my home town. After Canailles I hopped across the street to see Halifax native Willie Stratton, which is always a treat. Once Willie had finished his set I went back across the street to catch the eccentric Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir, which was quite the spectacle. From what I gather, the band's purpose is to poke fun not at religion, but those who take advantage of religion to preach how they think the world should be. It really is impossible for me to describe this gospel band and do them justice, so all I can say to you is I strongly urge you to go check them out. They really do put on a theatrical show and it is definitely worth seeing, besides, who doesn't like quality gospel music? I finished my HPX week by seeing Mo Kenney do her thing at the Company House, and it was lovely.

All in all I had a truly wonderful musical experience at the Halifax Pop Explosion and would like to thank everyone who made it happen. Special thanks goes out to the volunteers who held it all together. I'd like to send out an extra special thank you to Matt Charlton at Pigeon Row for hooking me up with the press pass and to Trevor Murphy for vouching for me.

Now its time for me to catch some much needed shuteye.

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