By Nathan Deschamps and Thalia Stopa
June 17-18, 2016
Allah-Las, FIDLAR, Of Montreal, Tycho, Cherry Glazer, Thee Oh Sees, The Growlers, Flying Lotus – Commodore Ballroom
Depending on who you ask, the greatest display of mystery and intrigue at this year’s Levitation Festival may have been the nearly last minute announcement by its organizers that the main stage event, originally scheduled to be held in Stanley Park at the beloved Malkin Bowl, had to be moved to the Commodore Ballroom due to “unforeseen circumstances”. This rather vague explanation became an instant sore spot for ticketholders, especially minors who could no longer attend the event due to the Commodore’s 19+ NO minors policy. The venue change was certainly a little jarring, but music is Vancouver’s darling and it would take more than a simple game of shifty-shifty to wreck everyone’s wild weekend.
Day One: Though dreams of seeing the sunset fall behind the reaching trees of Stanley Park had sunken into the past, the dream of drinking and dancing to the sounds of fantastic bands on Granville Street seemed to inject a sense of excitement into the festival goers as they climbed the steep stairs up and into the belly of the black-out curtained beast that is the Commodore Ballroom. The doors opened at 4 p.m. Friday. Apparently quite a few people, this reviewer included, regrettably missed both Louise Burns and White Lung. I did, however, catch the tail end of the Allah-Las set. As per usual, the crowd loved the patchouli scented leather jacket with paisley lining sound of the L.A. rockers. Last smokes were had before ins and outs ended at 8:00 p.m. The ATMs ran out of cash and everyone got ready for the next act.
FIDLAR hit the stage and did they ever hit it hard. Their commanding sound of clashing electric guitars spewed out anthemic blues-punk bangers. The crowd was immediately electrified. Thrashy dancing ensued and in a flash, the ballroom turned into the party it was destined to become. The last moment of calm for this weekend’s crowd may have been when lead singer Zac Carper instructed the audience to sit down on the floor during one of their last songs, everyone on the dance floor happily obliged. Suddenly, with the kind of synchronicity that would make Sting jealous, the audience jumped back into a full-throttle thrash-session for FIDLAR’s last few minutes onstage. The crowd was amped up and ready for more.
Of Montreal came on next, lead singer Kevin Barnes’ fantastic shiny outfit and swoopy blonde wig embodied their unique brand of disco-ball glitter glam rock. Of Montreal have been around for twenty-years now with various lineups, but they still sounded relevant. It’s hard to say the extent to which the audience knew the band’s songs, but the crowd were certainly gyrating their hips and moving along to the music. I would have loved to see more visuals accompany their set. But with the sudden venue change it’s understandable why this may have been difficult to arrange in time.
Tycho were last up. They played, as expected, an ambient set. It was relatively low energy, though the rhythm section pounded through and at times injected in dashes of energy. It seemed though that a lot of the crowd, excited as they were, wanted more stimulation at that hour. A lot of people seemed to leave before the end. Perhaps it was the beckoning call of the other shows playing at other venues that the all-access pass holders felt were irresistible. Or perhaps, Tycho was the wrong band to close out day one. Then again, it is hard to please everyone, and in fairness, a lot of people stayed till the end and seemed to have great time grooving to Tycho’s hypnotic dance music. All in all, day one provided the audience with an eclectic mix of sounds that left us all craving more.
Day Two: Again, much of the crowd seemed to be filtering into the ballroom a little after the first band, Cherry Glazer, had finished. With fresh rounds of Heineken in hand, everyone got cozy for Spanish darlings Hinds’ set. The four-piece were charming right from the start, and were seemingly unaccustomed to all the attention and gratitude from the crowd. When the drummer was introduced, the cheers of the audience seemed to overwhelm her. She playfully hid behind her drums only to be met but even more oohing and ahhing from the audience. They played a wonderful set that surfed from charming melodies to high-energy vocal harmonies. It was at times endearingly sloppy, which seemed to match everyone’s mood on that fateful Saturday.
Thee Oh Sees came on next. There were high expectations amongst the crowd and you could feel the excitement. As per usual, frontman John Dwyer did not disappoint. Backed by a rhythm section consisting of two perfectly synchronized drummers and a bass player, Dwyer screamed out his signature interstellar overdrive psychedelic punk songs. The music was loud and the energy was high throughout the whole set. They were as great as anyone who has seen them before expected, and anyone who had not seen them before walked away from the end of their set with a sparkle in their eye.
While everyone waited for the Growlers to play, it dawned on the crowd that beer prices had gone up to $8.25—happy hour had ended. The audience was consequently forced to drink highballs to get a bang for their buck, which at least for some of us was a welcomed curse, however for others, it may have been an unwelcomed curse. Luckily the Growlers hit the stage in time to offer us a shot of music to go with our whisky sodas. They played around with a collage of genres for their set. Latin percussion accompanied all the songs and the audience seemed to dig into to the grooves with enthusiasm. Lead singer, Brooks Nielsen, raspily crooned atop the funky outlaw sounds the Growlers have come to be revered for. Admittedly, the woodblock that the percussionist consistently played with the same fervor as the 13th Floor Elevators ubiquitous electric jug, became a little bit distracting. This aside, they were a fun, charming and colourful band to see on a rainy grey evening.
Finishing up the two-day brawl at the Commodore was the prolific Flying Lotus. Accompanying his inspirationally insane music were equally prolific visuals projected onto a screen behind the artist and a second translucent screen right at the front of the stage. Flylo played a stunning mix of his music that flowed from glitch drum and bass to beats with cinematic samples from old soul songs and movie scores. The visuals were an overwhelmingly trippy mixture of TLC Egypt documentary looking pyramid patterns and swirls of Tron-like neon lines. Surely, everyone in the audience must have seen and heard something for them during the hour or so set. The Commodore’s sound system damn near exploded!
Despite a venue change and a few logistical hiccups, Levitation Festival’s two days at the Commodore were a great experience. And just as Friday had left us wanting more, more, more, so too did Saturday night at the Commodore. I guess we’ll all just have to wait until next year. (ND)
Shabazz Palaces, Thundercat – The Imperial
Although up until the release of his first solo album in 2011 Stephen Bruner’s talents as a bassist, producer and singer were relatively low-key, Bruner’s pseudonym Thundercat doesn’t suggest much humility. Nor did the stage presence of his musical persona – the psychedelic soul-licious bassist and crooner was positively dripping in turquoise and self-gratification during his headlining performance at the Imperial last Saturday. Dressed as an urban cowboy, what could have come off as cheesy spectacle was effectively sliced by Bruner’s sharp talent and genuine emotiveness of heartbreak.
The set began with the sultry and morbid “Hard Times” (also the opening track on 2015’s The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam) after which Bruner clarified, “I’m not dead.” Considering how utterly morose the lyrical content on last year’s album is, that Bruner wasn’t a revived victim of his own admittedly self-destructive heartbreak wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. Still, the 31-year-old Los Angelean maintained positive vibes and at times even vibrated with upbeat funky energy. From grinning and laughing with the overzealous pogoing crowd members up front to soliciting a sing-a-long for “Complexion,” a song he co-produced and sang on for Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly album.
After polling the crowd about their level of inebriation – “Who’s drunk?” – Thundercat’s conclusion was unsurprising (“Everybody!”) considering that the lineup had him fifth on the roster and that the day’s festivities were approaching their 10th hour. This signified the night’s digression into a series of “drunk songs”. With lyrics like “I’m so tired/ One more glass to go/ Where this ends…?” (the chorus to a new song) and “Can you read my mind/ Or can you read my heart/ Because they are not one and the same” (“Evangelion”) it was good that the morale in the room was as buoyant as his falsetto.
Thundercat was one of the main draws of Vancouver’s Levitation Festival night show series, as evidenced by the sold out crowd that overflowed from the dance floor and onto the staircases. Another was collaborator and Saturday’s daytime headliner Flying Lotus; the pysch-electronic artist made a surprise appearance as hype-man for both Thundercat and the night’s prior performance by Shabazz Palaces.
The Seattle-based experimental hip-hop duo did ample job of levitating the fun-loving atmosphere at the Imperial as well as inspiring an equally elevated level of highness amongst crowd members. With no recent material to cull from, the pair performed a steady stream of songs off of their 2011 and 2014 albums in front of a swirling, circular image of white dots against a black screen. Regardless, Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire weren’t lacking in entertainment value by any estimation. Butler regularly stepped out from his position behind his soundboards to dance and interact with the crowd; Maraire entranced with his hand-drum talent and stamina during solos and the pair even goofed around playing patty-cake with each other,
Saturday night’s Levitation show definitely didn’t encapture the stereotypically rock and noise genre sound associated with most psychedelic music festivals, and that’s probably why it was such a triumphant and exciting night of music: it expanded the mind. (TS)Allah-Las, BC, British Columbia, Cherry Glazer, Commodore Ballroom, FIDLAR, Flying Lotus, Levitation Vancouver 2016, of Montreal, Shabazz Palaces, The Growlers, The Imperial, Thee Oh Sees, Thundercat, Tycho