The annual pilgrimage to Wolfe Island Music Festival (WIMF) got off to a bit of an uneven start but ended up being one of the better festivals I have attended over the last half decade or so.
On Friday night, we arrived to catch the end of Daniel Romano’s rather sedate country set. Romano had been to WIMF a few years earlier, but I missed him. This time he was on the Main Stage. It was pleasant music but nothing that made me want to go out and by a record.
Romano was followed by Elliott Brood, a band I saw 3(?) years ago, also on the Friday night. I used to really like their records, but I have to say that when I see them live, all their songs sound the same, and I have enjoyed them less. That being said, the GF really liked them, and the band also provided the comedy highlight of the festival. Someone in the audience through an empty cup on stage and one of the vocalists said “It’s like Altamont all over again.” He should take that act on tour. Oh wait…
We then headed to the General Wolfe to see the Kodeines but due to some scheduling mix-ups they had already played. So we stuck around for Limblifter, who you may remember (I didn’t). Limblifter did not endear themselves to most of us because of their demand of playing 30 minutes earlier than the schedule, but I actually found their idiosyncratic performance quite enjoyable and kind of want to hear what I missed the first time. I guess I was into them because I thought they were pop punk or something and instead they were alt rock and they had enough weirdness to them to elevate them above their songs that seemed kind of underwhelming.
After Limblifter ended super early, we went over to the Island Grill to see Brendan Phillip. Unfortunately, I have nothing nice to say, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything. But I will say this: the other night, someone said to me “If I can do it, it’s not art.” I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I couldn’t help but think about it when I saw Phillip. I could not sing like him. And I couldn’t pre-program beats like him – I assume he did his own programming, I sure hope so… – but I am pretty damn sure I could have written lyrics as “good” as his, with just a little bit of time constraint. Bad poetry is not endearing and when there’s not much else going on – one man singing over pretty generic beats with nothing else going on on stage – there’s nothing else to do but mock it. So, after objecting to things for a few minutes, we left.
Unfortunately we got to Mo Kenney’s set at St. Margaret’s Hall just as she was finishing, and only saw her fine, if predictable, solo acoustic cover of “Five Years.” But it was better than what was happening at the Island Grill.
On Saturday we missed the first four shows (as usual) and showed up just as Moonface (Spencer Krug) was getting started. I am only familiar with Krug from Swan Lake and (knowledge of) Wolf Parade. I found his set engaging for someone up there by himself with just a keyboard. My brother told me he drastically changed a lot of his songs which is something I really appreciate. (One of the fascinating aspects of WIMF is that, the next day, we were in line for the ferry with Krug and some other musicians, which is always a little surreal.)
Moonface was followed by Lowell. Lowell is not my kind of music (electro pop?) but she’s a great performer, when she’s actually doing her thing. Unfortunately, her set was just a little bit derailed by her obnoxious, millennial narcissism – mentioning she has perfect pitch, claiming she may have partially lost her hearing, constantly asking for her monitors to be adjusted. The rest of the band was good, and even though her lyrics were, at times, brutal, she owned the stage – again, when she was singing, not when she was talking.
The Elwins I only saw half of, using part of their set as an excuse to get ice cream. (Sorry.) They seemed to be relatively engaging power pop, albeit without enough hooks in their songs to really say in anyone’s mind. That being said, they had more fun than any other act we saw during this year’s festival and that is something you can’t put a price on.
Hayden started late because of technical difficulties – not sure whether it was on the festival or on Hayden, couldn’t tell. His set was mostly sedate but relatively endearing. He had the crow eating out of his hand during a very straight-up cover of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” (I like my covers weird.) It was fine. The GF liked it.
Unfortunately the sound issues continued for Operators, who took just as long as Hayden to get set up. And I believe Hayden may have played most of his set anyway, meaning that the Operators were left with maybe half their slot. That’s unfortunate, because, though I don’t like to listen to synth rock – for lack of a better term, as it was like synth pop but with way, way more grit and noise – on my own, they really put on a good show and were, up until that point, probably the highlight of the festival, even if the set was short – and even if their keyboardist couldn’t stop complaining about the lights. Live there isn’t much substitute for energy, and these guys had it.
Not to be outdone, the Constantines put on perhaps the best headlining show I’ve seen in the years I’ve attended WIMF. (Joel Plaskett might run a close second.) Though I didn’t necessarily care for the songs initially, every song was loud, jammed out and performed with such energy that the lead singer broke four strings on his guitars. This is as energetic a show as I’ve seen at WIMF, at least since July Talk a few years ago. It was great. The capper was the brief encore (everyone was behind by this point – when they claimed they were playing a “lullaby” and played by far the loudest and fastest song yet. Good stuff.
Overall, despite Friday being a bit of a mess, I think this was one of the stronger years I’ve attended and once again I greatly appreciate the vibe of the festival, how relaxed it is, and how much I feel like I’m so very far from Toronto.
And the music of course.