Wavelength is a special festival. It’s not only a showcase of Toronto’s incredible musical talent (though more on that in a bit), it’s also like a family reunion that sees members of the city’s music community braving the bitter cold for the sake of music. Now celebrating 15 years of annual music events, Wavelength’s number of relatives has grown quite a bit. It made sense, then, that to celebrate night one of the long-standing festival’s history, new bands would pay short-but-sweet homage to the older generation.
First up on Friday, February 13 was The Skeletones Four, playing three songs in honour of Jim Guthrie. While it was a brief foray into Guthrie’s body of work, they warmed up the crowd with a toe tapping set. We’d later learn that Guthrie was actually in attendance as well – a fact revealed after they had finished, so as to make them less nervous.
More Or Les, a Scarborough-turned-Toronto rapper, was up nex and offered up some of the city’s best rap – covering Saukrates, Kardinal Offishal, and Thrust. More Or Les was joined on stage by all-stars from Revival’s monthly Hip Hop Karaoke series, and by Thrust himself (though sadly they didn’t just do the rap part from soulDecision’s “Faded”). More Or Les also took time to do one of his own original songs – the amazingly relatable, hunger-inducing “Brunch Again”, a song he jokingly referred to as “Murdering Mother F***ers”.
The rap turned to the orchestral as Laura Barrett and her Lockbox project took to the stage, trying their hand at Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy. If anything, the showing was a clear indication of Pallett’s genius and a pretty good deterrent from ever wanting to try Pallett karaoke. The man writes a difficult song and, while Lockbox pulled through, the time signature and melodic jumps were clearly difficult to handle – the cover band giving them a little more brunt force than their initial incarnations.
The Constantines were handled by Hervana, who traded out their typical Nirvana material for the band’s Sub Pop brothers – effectively proving why they’re one of the best cover bands in the city.
Delta Will, meanwhile, were far and away the band with the most gear to hall on stage, giving their best shot at Caribou. While Caribou is a bit of a tenuous connection to Wavelength (Dan Snaith has never played the festival in this incarnation – though he has done a DJ set under his Manitoba moniker), it certainly proved the most dance floor friendly section of the night. Choosing from a selection of songs across Caribou’s (and Manitoba’s back catalogue), Delta Will hit it big with their cover of 2014’s “I Can’t Do Without You”. Given the amount of practice they’ve probably put into learning these covers, it’s a track they should co-opt and keep in their repertoire.
The cover section of the night was rounded out by Most People, a three-piece covering the much-more-than-three-people Toronto staple Broken Social Scene. They offered up their renditions of “Sweetest Kill”, “Lover’s Spit”, and “7/4 Shoreline” – the latter sounding what you might imagine a BSS song to sound like if Stars had written it. Most People struggled with its middle section but revived it by the end – providing the audience with a strong reminder of just how spectacular Toronto’s music scene has been over the years and just where it’s headed.
After a short intermission, Art Bergmann took to the stage. A key figure in Canadian punk rock, the 62-year-old Calgary native has likely seen livelier days. That said, he still puts on a strong-sounding show (albeit a far too long show, given the circumstances.) He’s very much all snarled, near-spoken word lyrics while his band backs him up with aggressive, bordering-jazz instrumentals. Bergmann teeters around on stage, but he knows what he’s doing. Though crowd reception was slightly tepid, his stream of consciousness lyricism was transfixing and bewildering, even referencing Beyonce, Jay Z, and Kanye West.
A 14-song set isn’t something most Wavelength performers are afforded, however, so it came as no surprise when, nine songs in, Bergmann was told he had time for just one more. He complied and cut it down to 10, but chose to end with what must be one of the longest numbers the Sneaky Dee’s stage has ever hosted: a 20-minute exercise that stretched and stretched and stretched, seeming to rival the length of a Peter Jackson film.
Those that stuck through Bergmann and into the early hours were there for one reason, of course: to see controller.controller, reunited after an eight-year breakup. While their reunion didn’t come with quite the same intense enthusiasm as, say, news of a DFA1979 reunion brought on, for those that grew up in Toronto in the mid-2000s, it was exciting. controller.controller had, after all, been poised to be the city’s next big thing – all the buzz and the expectations ultimately resulting in their untimely demise.
Returning to the place of their first show, the Toronto five-piece was admittedly rusty to begin with “History” and “Silent Seven” sounding a bit muted. One working bass later and it made a world of difference, however, with “Poison/Safe” every bit as vibrant and aggressive as one might hope. It might be nearly a decade since the release of the band’s second album X-Amounts, but vocalist Nirmala Basnayake still sells the material extremely well.
A slowed but sweaty “Disco Blackout” added to the set’s feeling of mess and exuberance, bassist Ronnie Morris jumping into the Sneaky Dee’s crowd as was tradition. Cheers for an encore were unfortunately not met – Basnayake explaining they had only learnt eight songs for this reunion set – but with a reception this positive from the happy audience members, one can only hope controller.controller give this back-to-music idea some serious consideration. Eight years is too long for another show.