By Colin Gallant, Jarrett Edmund, Levi Manchak and Brittany Rudyck
The fifth year of Edmonton’s favourite October music festival kicked off on a luckily beautiful Friday afternoon. The streets of the downtown core were bustling, slightly more than usual, and it became common to hear folks on the street talk about what they were planning on seeing and what they had all ready taken in. Togetherness seems at an all time high this year.
The Starlite Room and Brixx were home to a slew of great bands from near and far during the first night, including Vancouver’s Summering. The new PA system at the Starlite Room made every band upstairs sound lush and full, something Summering all ready does in spades. Singer Paul Stewart had a Thom Yorke thing going on, the drums were perfectly patient and we waded into the festival with these opulent sounds to guide us.
Meanwhile, downstairs in Brixx, Pet Blessings served up a frenetic, fun and rowdy set. Group vocals way less obnoxious than your average banjo-wave pop super band were a fun juxtaposition with the following three piece, Gary Debussey. It may have been loud, but we’re fairly certain we heard drummer Sean McIntosh say something about that set being one of their last. Fingers crossed we are wrong about this.
Since Gary Debussey play infrequently, it’s always a massive treat when they do make an appearance. Wild time signatures, absolutely perfect controlled chaos and surprisingly casual stage manner are essentially what makes the band so lovable. Hopefully it’s not the last we’ll see of them. (BR)
Those of us who attended the show at The Needle had something of a sleeper hit on our hands. While U.S. Girls was the headlining lure to attend, Vancouver’s Tei Shi was the one to bring the house down despite playing third to last. Her slinky take on R&B drew equally from recent, predominantly electronic palettes and plenty of classic, Prince-esque guitar licks and rhythms. Funk and R&B are genres call for a certain degree of sensuality and stage presence which was far from a challenge for Tei Shi. Her dance moves, impressive vocal runs and luxe gait were entrancing and the set flew by in what felt like an instant.
Delightful as that was for the audience, it stacked the odds somewhat against U.S. Girls. Though her solo, lo-fi pop came to new life with the help of a large backing band, the specter of Tei Shi’s dazzling performance lingered. It was great to hear brand new tracks and revived versions of songs from 2015’s excellent Half Free, but the context just wasn’t quite right. (CG)
DIIV took the stage inauspiciously to a technical error with a projector that had frontman Zachary Cole Smith quickly flipping the glitch into a joke that put his mordant charm on display. “This show is sponsored by Benq.” The band then time travelled through a set featuring songs from albums Oshin and Is the Is Are with Smith announcing the year each song came out prior to playing it. DIIV’s main substance of choice for the night seemed to be style, allowing their cool dream pop to speak for itself as it flowed through the Starlite room.
The only tangible break from the guitar pop hypnosis came when a relentless fan near the front screamed “This city needed this! I love you Cole!” and Smith announced that the fan had won a contest and that no one else needed to try to like DIIV as much as him. (LM)
After a few minutes of DIIV, the obvious buzz and call of the Freemasons Hall attracted us to Sister Nancy. Despite a fire alarm snafu and an extremely late appearance by the reggae legend, the crowd was eating out of the palm of her hand the moment she took the stage. “Bam Bam” had the entire audience winding, bouncing and MOVING. A supremely satisfying end to the first night. (BR)DIIV, Edmonton, Freemason Hall, Gary Debussey, Sister Nancy, Starlite Room, Summering, Tei Shi, The Needle, U.S Girls, Up + Downtown Fest