By Colin Gallant
Editor’s note: No relation between writer Colin Gallant and photographer Gabrielle Gallant.
HALIFAX — Day two of Gridlock ran from about noon to midnight, marking the longest day at the festival. It may well prove to have been the most exciting, too.
BeatRoute’s coverage begins with Owen (Mike Kinsella of the night’s headliner, American Football) live in the Spatz Theatre. This was the first of Gridlock’s all-ages program, and admission was offered free of charge to anyone under the province’s drinking age. Owen played to reverent silence from a mostly full room with a generous capacity. Though much of his lyrical subject matter deals with heartbreak, Kinsella was at the ready with between song jokes and some light crowd work. This perfectly set the tone for a day that was about all things Kinsella.
Birmingham, Alabama’s Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield) elicited a similar reaction in her headlining performance at the Spatz. Banter was lighter, which felt appropriate in contrast to Crutchfield’s total rawness as a songwriter. To complement her bare approach, Crutchfield’s guitar playing was minimal and deliberate. All in all the show was a cozy transition into the festival’s second day.
All-ages accessibility was represented again at a one-off show at the historic Pavilion. Dubbed “Halifax’s only dedicated all ages venue,” the mostly inactive box-like building at the centre of the Halifax Common was a crucial haunt for many of the festival’s 19+ attendees during their teen years – including this reviewer. It was a fitting choice for a festival that hinged on the booking of American Football, a favourite for attendees during their adolescence. Locals Crossed Wires, Montreal’s Solids and Beach Slang of Philadelphia performed, with the latter two also performing on the main stage shortly afterwards. We caught only Crossed Wires, a tight three-piece who played deadpan vocals against inventive, cathartic instrumentals.
After a busy morning, it was time to take it easy on the main festival grounds. A mostly chill set from road warrior Jon Mckiel played as we rested for the packed evening to come.
Things took a dramatic shift in energy when Partner hit the stage. Noting that friends and family were in the audience, the Sackville, NB, duo ripped through a set full of songs about getting high and being gay women. The nearly ridiculous level of energy and likely wasn’t only in the interest of swagger, as the core duo of Lucy Niles and Josée Caron seem intent on turning cock rock tropes on their head. Even if one weren’t paying attention to the finer details, they’d be able to report that the band can shred.
Peach Kelli Pop had been on the lips of a number of excited fans that day. Their take on SoCal garage-rock ran the gamut of pogo pop jams and more straight-up punk numbers. The group took a break to warm their fingers on the less-than-tropical day while chief songwriter Allie Hanlon shared her feelings on being a Canadian living in the United States. Most on her mind was the predicament of Americans referring to toques as “beanies.” The playful interaction perfectly underscored the schoolyard fun of their set.
Again we mostly hung back during Solids, Lowell, and Beach Slang. It was a great time to check out the vendor area where Stay Home Club (named after a song by American Football), Big Pony and others were hocking kitsch wares.
We waded back in near the end of The Rural Alberta Advantage’s set. It was everything you’d expect from the CanCon faves: emotive vocals, impressive drum work and rigorous strumming. The RAA really never disappoint, and easily filled the tent to its peak density so far.
In talking to people coming to Gridlock, it seemed pretty clear that the main course of the festival was American Football. Music fans came from afar, calling home places like Newfoundland and even Boston. Yet the tent was noticeably a bit less full than it had been for The RAA. That didn’t seem to bother the loyal fans cramped together at the stage, each wanting to get as close as humanly possible. This show was their first ever in Canada, coming 17 years after the release of their only album, an eponymous cult classic. With three guitars, a bass, drums, a trumpet and percussion, the band played nearly their entire catalogue. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see the influence they’ve had on an array of indie genres that flourished after the band’s heyday. Delayed, interlocked guitars, the gentle accompaniment of the trumpet and Kinsella’s sorely earnest singing can be found throughout music today – but perhaps never as well executed as by American Football. It sounds like a cliché, but it was truly a dream come true for much of the audience. People sobbed between cheers and sang along without inhibition. Even if the music hadn’t been so pretty and inviting, the energy among the faithful would have been enough to call the set a heartwarming delight.AB, Alberta, American Football, Beach Slang, Big Pony, Crossed Wires, Gridlock 2016, Halifax, Jon Mckiel, Lowell, Owen, Partner, Peach Kelli Pop, Solids, Stay Home Club, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Waxahatchee