By Levi Manchak and Brittany Rudyck
October 7-9, 2016
EDMONTON — Running a festival over 16 venues during a holiday weekend might have been ambitious, but the best part of Up + Downtown (UP+DT) Fest in Edmonton was that their multi-venue setup fostered a choose-your-own adventure experience. There was a chance to see a Canadian chanteuse in a world class concert hall, a future country star in an intimate venue or a band who wrote the theme song for one of the best comedy shows of all time. Perhaps it was their surf-rock that set off the rash of people to hang ten above the crowd at the after party. At UP+DT Fest 2016, you could have seen a professional punk band riding a high tide up out of the underground, in full command. You could have broken through your pre-Thanksgiving coma with a high-energy alt-country band. You might have stumbled into a reunion show with a band full of high school friends. Or you could have laughed at a kid in the hall. (LM)
Some of Friday’s UP+DT 2016 shows featured Faith Healer, Mitchmatic, Royal Canoe, Close Talker and If These Trees Could Talk, which took place at the Needle Vinyl Tavern. While it may have been enticing to stick inside one venue as the first snow of the year fell outside, the spirit of the festival encouraged roaming.
Faith Healer were the most alive I’d ever seen them. It was refreshing to hear Jessica Jalbert addressing the fact that she was ill but still performing in spite of sickness. Although we only caught the last few songs of their set, it was a delightful start to see Jalbert spurring the audience with her quick wit and charm. Mitchmatic made it abundantly obvious as to why he remains a crowd favorite in his Edmonton hometown. The audience continued to swell at the Needle for Winnipeg’s Royal Canoe, who were as quirky and brilliant as they ever have been.
Although we missed out on the last two bands of the evening, we trudged over to Brixx Bar just in time to catch Edmonton’s Counterfeit Jeans. Tight and boisterous, the true highlight of the trio’s set was Cassia Hardy of Wares appearing onstage to join them for a live rendition of “Fairy Ring,” the song she provided guitar support for on their self-titled LP. Hardy added a wild and assured stage presence the trio wouldn’t have otherwise; teasing both bass and guitar parts with her natural charisma.
Worst Days Down lived up to their reputation as consistently sharp and passionate performers. Ben Sir is amongst the dearest champions of local music in Edmonton and his enthusiasm was palpable through his slightly nervous, slightly awkward stage presence but proved that humility will never go out of style.
Our Mercury had the entire room in a trance. While their punk rock may not have been as fiery as in the past, the band seamlessly elevated their performance into a more melodic and adult version of their former selves. Thankfully for us, they didn’t lose any of their kick and the full crowd at Brixx was left visibly energized and uplifted.
Saturday kicked off with a plucky all ages set by Tokyo Police Club at the Needle Vinyl Tavern. Their set was danceable, happy indie rock punctuated by a smiling, bright audience. It was also wonderful to see so many young kids at this show properly celebrating Thanksgiving with their families.
Later Saturday evening, with the help of Not Enough Fest, Banshee, Wares, Switches, Labour and White Lung put on memorable and explosive sets. Banshee continues to tighten up as a band and it’s always impressive to watch the singer/bass player, Jackie, grow in her vocal range. Banshee’s bluesy Queens of the Stone Age-style of rock noticeably impressed the crowd.
After Banshee, I ducked out into the cold wind to check out some of Bruce McCulloch’s comedy set at the All Saints Catholic Church. Best known for his time on Kids in the Hall, McCulloch’s set was inspired mainly by his family life. My lingering hangover coupled with the few tranquilizing beers I drank at the Banshee show nearly put me to sleep in the church pew, uncomfortable as it was. We caught a part of McCulloch’s show in which he reminisced about Pismo Beach and a collection of disgusting items he and his family discovered at an unfortunate Airbnb experience: dirty diapers, a box of condoms with one missing, and a wet tube sock were just a few other items left behind by the previous renter. After a few laughs I resolved to return to the Needle.
We walked in perfectly timed to see Wares do her thing on the small stage. Never one to disappoint, Cassia Hardy hopped off the stage and yelled directly in my face while ripping through “Missed the Point.” Switches followed and true to form, did not disappoint. Although this particular show didn’t include a shot-gunning contest or cigarettes being thrown into the crowd, they maintained their delightful stage presence despite a lack of saucy antics.
With the Switches, it’s always a fun sing along!
Sunday was a flurry of loud punk rock, with the exception of JPNSGRLS, who felt like a weird last minute addition beside Borrachera, who are much louder and aggressive. Jay Higgs of Borrachera is always captivating with his gritty, primal howls and potent ability to turn your head toward the stage. Chunky, dirty bass and his delightfully audacious rock star stage persona make for one of Edmonton’s best bands out there today.
As mentioned, JPNSGRLS were a lot lighter, especially in contrast to Borrachera. Suited to a younger, Sonic Boom-going crowd, their poppy sound was slightly lost on me. Lead singer Charlie Kerr was entertaining to watch as he bounded from one side of the stage to the other, engaging their young fans.
Calgary’s Mortality Rate instantly impressed the afternoon Denizen Hall crowd with a badass female lead singer. They performed a set of heavy hardcore mixed with a touch of emo screaming, for good measure. Everyone in the crowd was ready to party as they closed their set. This was good timing for Youth Decay of Vancouver to pop onstage and give the crowd a set of accessible pop punk, constantly fun to sing (and drink) along to.
After a bit of a breather (and some much needed food in our bellies), we ended the weekend at 9910 with the Allovers. Fun, fast and danceable, the Allovers seem to be a fixture each year at UP+DT. We clumsily danced, smiled and soaked in the last of the festival. It’s easy to remember why this is one of the best festivals in the city. Friends everywhere you look, new and old, instilling the spirit of Thanksgiving in our little hearts.
Until next year… (BR)9910, AB, Alberta, All Saints Catholic Church, Allovers, Banshee, Basia Bulat, Borrachera, Brixx Bar, Bruce McCulloch, Close Talker, Counterfeit Jeans, Faith Healer, If These Trees Could Talk, JPNSGRLS, Labour, Mitchmatic, Mortality Rate, Needle Vinyl Tavern, Our Mercury, Royal Canoe, Switches, Tokyo Police Club, Up+Downtown Festival, Wares, White Lung, Worst Ways Down, Youth Decay