Written by Dakota Arsenault & Andreas Babiolakis with Photographs by Sarah Rix & Sean Chin.
It was the final day of WayHome: Toronto’s newest answer to all of those massive festivals around the world. It was an impressive initial outing that resulted in magical moments, complete chaos, utter absurdities and an overall radical experience. It was almost time to find our own ways home, but not before a few more highlights to end off a story we can only fully recollect once we have water, rest and our sanities back.
The classic rock enthusiasts The Sheepdogs seemed to pull in the largest non-headliner crowd of the whole weekend, as everyone made it out to the WayHome stage for a late afternoon set. They sound just as great live as they do on their albums as they played crowd favourites like The Way It Is and Feeling Good. With their Guess Who meets Allman Brothers sound you would be forgiven to thinking festival goers were temporarily transported to the Monterey Pop Festival or Woodstock both back in 1967 and 1969 respectively. To honour Day 1 headliner Neil Young, the boys performed Southern Man, which took all of them to harmonize together just to come close to Young’s very high falsetto.
Annie Clark has been the newest, android rendition of St. Vincent since last year, and she had these same robotic blueprints used as the basis of her WayHome performance. However, she was a lot more humanistic this time around, which is not a side of Clark I have seen live until now. Yes, she still danced mechanically and moved around on heels as if she was gliding along a conveyor belt still. She broke character a number of times, and it was a great setting like WayHome for this to happen. All of us could use that escape. The biggest example is when she “dusted off” an old live staple of hers and did a solo performance of The Beatles’ Dig a Pony. She predicted that she would be rusty, and she did mess up one part. She laughed it off manically and kept going with a lot more ease from there out. It’s true: St. Vincent is human! She cares about humanity greatly, too, as she shouted out to people who identify as queer, transexual, a part of bondage culture and more. She also gracefully showed off her impressive guitar collection by bringing out a new six stringed beast for every other song or so (my favorite was the candy green axe). While she appeared to have issues with her sound (she kept trying to get the sound boards’ attention), St. Vincent was still a sight to behold with her filthy guitar solos, her hole punched outfit and even her return to her formerly signature dark curly hair. With a final song that had Clark running through the barricaded parts of the crowd and slamming into a camera man with a large embrace, St. Vincent had as much fun as we did. Instead of imagining her drifting off into space, we can finally know she walked back to her trailer amongst all the others, and there’s a humbling comfort in that.
The Cold War Kids seemed to have a goal of playing all their singles from their five studio albums as it seemed like every one was instantly recognizable, even for casual fans. From Miracle Mile to Audience to I’ve Seen Enough, the band was aimed to please everyone. Continuing the theme of seemingly every single band on Sunday doing a cover (I personally saw six different acts do covers) Cold War Kids played Well Well Well, a John Lennon track. The quite large crowd received the bands mix of off the wall clangy piano playing and smooth guitar riffs very well.
Brandon Flowers has done some great work with creating a new identity for himself with his solo career. When he blasted out onto the stage with his sleeves rolled up and with the charisma of a magician, you know you’re looking at a man who feels like he has reinvented the very dream he has achieved once before. He introduced his songs with a wide smile, and you can honestly know he was in love with this career reincarnation. He told us about pilgrimages, both in Mexico and within the musical community, and it’s this notion that served as a nurturing blurring of fascination and knowledge. Flowers’ vocal work was powerful, and a lot of this felt like it came from the enthusiasm he had with being there. His backing band cushioned his excitement by providing a lush backdrop for his jumps, yodels and lunges to sink into. It was a feel good show, and while I haven’t been largely into his solo work, I found myself as ecstatic about his set as he was. His joy was infectious, and someone like Brandon Flowers can only bloom even more so with this kind of love.
While most of the day was fairly sedentary (that is not a negative, just not a lot of super-fast paced music to dance to was on Day 3), that all changed with WALK THE MOON who brought their sugar coated dance pop anthems to close out the WayBold stage. With the opening notes of Anna Sun until the closer Shut Up and Dance it was nonstop party music in all the flavours of pop. Singer Nicholas Petricca had his face painted, this being my first WTM show was new to me, but several fans that got on camera also had their faces done up in a similar manner. It was apparently the band’s first festival in Canada and they claimed we made them feel at home. When the feel good, pro-gay rights song Different Colors was played their lights created a rainbow, a nice touch that wasn’t too overt or subtle. The band’s music seems to be filtered through a John Hughes test cycle before being released as most of their songs would fit in during the lighter moments of the famed director’s classic 80’s films. After speaking with the band earlier in the day (look for our interview to be posted soon!) it was made well aware how much WTM adores Brandon Flowers. Petricca mentioned how listening to Hot Fuss made him want to start a band, so naturally to play tribute to the man who played just before them (on the main stage though) they ripped through an almost spot on recreation of All These Things That I’ve Done, to much adulation.
Finally after all the stages closed and a mad dash was made from Vance Joy’s set at WayBright to the main stage, it was set to begin, the closing moments of WayHome. When the lineup and schedule was first announced much consternation was made about having Sam Smith headline. The young man only has one full album and last year you could see him on the smallest of stages at other festivals. People also complained about having a pop singer headline as weird. Unfortunately these people are crazy and should be ignored. Whether you like the guy or not, Smith has an undeniably great voice and with a full band behind him he sounded as good as he looked. The set started out with I’m Not the Only One and it seemed like everyone in the front section sang along for the entire set. Smith commented on how the weekend before was his first headlining show at Forecastle Festival, but due to an electrical storm the set was cut short, so WayHome was technically his first full stop of the bill show. The man may get some flak for just being a pop singer, but he made sure to clear up the fact that he “writes all my own shit”, which is better than you can say about most other top 40 artists. Along with playing most of his album, he filled his set which some great covers including a mashup of Tears Dry on Their Own, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and Le Freak showing off Smith’s love of all kinds of dance music. The set was a very personal one as Smith took the time to explain most of the songs and the meanings behind them, most being about an unrequited love, but some like Money on My Mind being a searing take down based on a single greedy music producer Smith worked with, but also an indictment of the industry as a whole. For his encore, Smith started out with Latch (Acoustic) telling the crowd how a little over two years ago he wrote this song with the “Disclosure lads” and how it changed all three of their lives since then. Latch (Acoustic) was especially important to Smith, as his show was on the eve on a brand new Disclosure track coming out (Omen), which he also sings on.
While at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s set there were fireworks, there was nothing of the sort to finish off the first annual WayHome Festival. This was most likely a decision made so that the most of the 35,000 strong festival-goers could observe the spectacle on the second night. Nevertheless, the festival was a huge success and with dates already being announced for next year it is safe to say WayHome is the home of music and festival lovers and we here at Live in Limbo cannot wait to go again, we you hope you loved it as much as we all did.