After a year’s hiatus, the Wolfe Island Music Festival returned and I resumed my annual pilgrimage to the one and only music festival I go to. I think that, with one major exception, there was a general feeling among our group that this edition was better than the 2015 edition.
Friday August 11, 2017
Friday night we actually sort of made it over to the festival early than many previous years, arriving fairly early on in Your Boy’s set at the main stage. Your Boy is better known as Shad, who I’ve seen at the festival at least twice (possibly thrice). Your Boy is kind of an R&B/rock fusion thing, as far as I could tell. Apparently a member of Alexis On Fire was in the backing band. Not knowing enough about Canadian independent music royalty, I missed this fact until after. This music is not my thing but it was well done.
I did not enjoy the first few songs by the next band, Said the Whale, so we decided to go to a different venue. They began playing a song as we were leaving which made me think twice about ssaying, and my brother said the set got better as it went on, but I have no regrets for two reasons.
We got to the General Wolfe fairly early into the set by 47 Teeth. Their description in the festival program did not do them justice. Imagine early At the Drive-In, fronted by two women, playing slightly poppier, slightly less ambitious material and you sort of get an idea of what kind of band this was. (I’m sure there’s a better comparison but I’m not exactly up on my emo/post-hardcore bands.) We both enjoyed the set (which is something given our differing tastes in music) and were both pleasantly surprised. They’re not reinventing the wheel or anything, but this was my favourite act of the night and one of my favourites of this year’s festival.
The other reason we don’t regret leaving during Said the Whale’s performance is that, shortly after 47 Teeth finished, the skies opened up – before the rest of our group had a chance to come from the main stage to the hotel – and one of the biggest storm’s of the rainiest summer I can remember hit Wolfe Island for a good hour. As Jenn put it, it was “monsoon level.” There was a lot of rain, as well as lightning, but we didn’t get wet until we had to go get the cars.
During the storm, there was no way we were going to another venue (one set did get cancelled due to the storm too). So we stayed for Dilly Dally. Dilly Dally are sort of noisy alternative (or catchier noise rock) with a vocalist who screams more than Courtney Love did on those early Hole albums; she rarely sings, actually. Jenn did not enjoy herself. I found them a little one note, particularly because the effect on the lead guitar – played by the leader singer, I believe, as I couldn’t actually see her – was present for nearly every song. Basically, they’re one of those bands that has a sound and will not deviate. They were fine, but the hype pre-show from some of the members of our group was maybe a little much.
We tried to wait out the rain afterwards, but that wasn’t going to work – so we thought, as it ended shortly thereafter – and so we had a bit of a hilarious herding cats experience trying to make sure we had everyone and they all got home safe. Somehow, all us designated drivers ended up driving back with no passengers and yet everyone got home okay. (Turns out, there were other designated drivers we didn’t know about.)
Saturday August 12
Normally on the Saturday we never make it to the first show but my cousin’s band, 1990 Future, was on first thing, so we actually managed to see the entire Saturday bill for once (well, three of us did). I haven’t seen them in a (long) while and so there was mostly new material. They have changed a bit over the years and now have a more dynamic sound, which was nice to see. It’s pretty rare for a festival opener to have people dancing, far as I know, and they did just that. One of the personal highlights of the festival for me was a few hours later when, sitting in the grass, I heard an old, grizzled festival veteran (well, he was mid 50s at least) apologize to his friends for not meeting them where they all met in Marysville because he “had to see 1990, a real solid Toronto band.” Please check out their music.
Next up was Un Blonde, a mostly solo performer, doing a sort of jazzy funk thing which was interesting given that music like this is usually performed by large bands (he was joined by a bass player for a couple of songs). We missed much of the set getting ice cream and coffee but what I saw I liked.
Kasador followed, playing a kind of bro-y hybrid of indie rock and R&B. I gotta say, I’ve seen this kind of thing a bunch of times and it does not do anything for me. These guys were quite good – the guitarist tapped during a solo – and they clearly enjoyed themselves about as much as any band during the entire festival, but I don’t get this type of music and it’s just not my thing. The weirdest part was when they launched into a bunch of noise and feedback and stuff and then abruptly transitioned into some smooth R&B jam. It was, um, weird. (I generally like weird, but it felt jarring to me.) Not my thing.
Following Kasador was Partner, a lesbian comedy rock band that channels AC/DC and other bombastic hard rock bands at times, and then indie pop at other times. I appreciated their mocking of rock conventions – they leaned on each other’s backs, they played unison guitar solos, etc – and found some of their songs pretty amusing. The only issue with stuff like this is that it’s sometimes hard to make out lyrics and you need to hear the lyrics of a comedy rock band. (Also, when the lyrics aren’t funny, it can be a problem.) Generally I appreciated them though it would have been helpful to have a lyric sheet.
Up next was The Franklin Electric who were generic Canadian indie rock enough that we went to go get dinner. We were around for part of their set if memory serves but unfortunately I have seen a lot of bands like this at the festival over the years – and listened to far more back when I used to listen to Exclaim! previews – and this type of band just doesn’t add anything for me. So I barely paid them any attention. A lot of other people seemed to like them, though.
New Swears play garage rock that has been done by tons of previous bands. They sound like a more varied Ramones sometimes and sometimes they sound more like a louder version of some ’60s garage rock staples. But their live show is amazing. This is not the kind of band I would seek out on record, but I enjoy this kind of thing live, I would see them again and I strongly recommend you see them too. Their stage antics are ridiculous, in the best way possible: at one point, one of the guitarists careened around the stage like a lunatic, nearly falling off one side and then he did a complete summersault – with his guitar on! – before he resumed singing. In the final song, the band minus the drummer formed a human pyramid. I have never seen either antic before and the first one in particular left me basically giggling with delight. They could have been the headliner. I would have said “should” only they’re not famous enough. The best show of the weekend, in my opinion.
Hannah Georgas performed the “sunset” set. I have seen her before, twice actually; first at WIMF a few years ago and then at the festival fundraiser back in March. (Evidently I forgot to write a post for that concert.) I don’t like her particular type of music (this set in particular was pretty indie synth pop ish) but she does a good job and, from memory, this show had a little more dynamic variety to it than I remembered from previous performances.
Land of Talk got off to a slow start, sounding not exactly like the kind of music you’d have on in the penultimate set of a concert. However, the weird tunings and the presence of a french horn part livened things considerably. As the performance went on, it got considerably more lively, culminating in a big showstopper that featured a false ending – with silence lasting 10 seconds, possibly more – before the climax of the song, something I really enjoyed. Of all the bands I saw this year, this would be the one I’d check out on record; they were among the most original and they seemed to translate well a sound not necessarily suited to vital live performances. I’m impressed. (They also could have headlined, perhaps should have. I think those of us who remained through the final set would have been happy with that.)
The headliner was Born Ruffians, a band I saw back in 2013 but couldn’t remember until the bassist got on stage and I had some faint memory of him flailing around. I wrote the following in 2013:
I can’t figure out Born Ruffians. They were playing short, seemingly poppy songs that people were going crazy for, but they were full of multiple parts with multiple time signatures – and fairly bereft of obvious hooks – that I should have been into, but they didn’t seem tight enough. But these songs were contrasted with a ballad that could have been performed by one of these R&B revival groups. That’s when I left to go get my sweater. By the time I came back they were singing arena pop rock with huge sing-a-long choruses. So that was weird.
I admit to not remembering writing that at all but the assessment seems fairly dead-on except for the R&B stuff, replace that with rockabilly (permeating the whole set, rather than one song) and maybe you have something. This version of the band was a trio and was considerably sparser. They debuted a bunch of new material to the consternation of both of the remaining members of our group who stayed with me for the entirety of the final set. The band apologized for it multiple times, but continued to do it. I’m okay with that, but I understand why other people were upset. You’re the headliner, you want people singing along. About that: apparently they have at least two reasonably big (for Canada) hit songs from way back. They played one of them, and did not play the second, even in the encore (which, we assumed, was when they would play it). Instead, during their encore they finished with a ballad, and a rather long one. That seemed weird and made me reminisce about The Constantines two years ago, whose set was loud, full of energy and sweat and noise and just made this one pale in comparison. I’m sure these guys are fine mid-festival but they didn’t work as the headliner. We stayed after the rest of our group went home and didn’t feel like we were rewarded.
Despite ending on a muted note, I think this edition of The Wolfe Island Music Festival was one of the better ones I’ve been too, and I enjoyed more bands than usual, and only really left one performance because of the music (that’s low!). This remains my favourite music festival for a myriad of reasons and I hope that the financial difficulties that plagued it last year do not repeat themselves. It is an essential part of my summer at this point.