Photos by Katrina Lat & Janine Van Oostrom. Written by Mehek Seyid and Shannon Ruzgys
The second that the sun rose over the horizon everyone on the grounds knew it was going to be a hot last day in Oro-Medonte. I went into last day knowing that the majority of bands I came for had already played so this would be a day of sitting at the back and listening to some tunes. The first act of the day that I caught was Colony H_ouse, a band who I’ve already seen live and absolutely raved about to everyone. They were playing on the WayBright stage which I think was far too big for them, the crowd was by no means small but on the big stage they looked spread out and dismal. The actual performance was absolutely amazing and exactly what I expected. They were full of life and energy and really got the crowd engaged. My problems were that they kind of felt out of place on the huge stage and they only had a 30 minute set. Honestly it takes a crowd at least 15 minutes to get into a show and by that time it’s already half over. I think they would have done far better on a more intimate stage and a little longer set.
The next act that I saw was Hamilton natives, The Dirty Nil. They were an energetic breath of fresh air on the hot summer day. They reminded me of the type of punk/grunge rock you would expect in the early 2000’s. They were loud and in your face and it was exactly what we needed. Again my only problems were that the stage was far too big and the set was far too short. Of course this was not something that either of the bands could control and it really comes down to the larger problems with the festival itself. No band should be only playing 30 minute sets, that’s not even enough time to get the crowd engaged and the band going. Also it really felt that they needed a stage in between WayAway and WayBright.
Later in the day I was lucky enough to catch two of the most powerful women in music right now, Mitski and Banks. Mitski had adoring fans lining the stage and also managed to draw in a decent sized crowd. Her vocals were so stunning that you really could no help not being captivated by her. Next was Banks and I went into this one with some pretty high expectations, which she managed to exceed past my wildest dreams. Her and her two background dancers were far different than anything I’ve ever seen; it was weird and captivating and I was just completely awestruck.
In a short half hour performance at the WayAway stage, Rag’n’Bone Man showed that he deserves more. More attention, more praise, and certainly more time to flex his impressive voice, a soulful tone akin in depth to Jack Garratt, Tom Smith, and Guy Garvey. Quickly acknowledging the limited time on stage, Rag‘n’Bone Man focused on performing as much as he could, throwing his powerful voice behind songs like “As You Are” and “Wolves” into high gear. Inevitably, breakout hit “Human” led to louder sing-alongs and clapping from the audience, while “Skin” allowed Rag’n’Bone Man to cut through the blistering heat and the midday exhaustion to revive all with a goosebump worthy performance that resided with attendees. This is an act to keep an eye on in the coming months.
To those who know, you know: Mutemath is one of the most underrated bands, period. It’s not bias that makes it boggling to think about how they’ve stayed as one of the best-kept secrets in music, but rather the fact that their craftsmanship and musicianship is just so deserving of more. Rigorous touring over the years, including a recent stint with Twenty One Pilots, brought new listeners into the fold. Perhaps that’s their key, because anytime Mutemath performs, it’s with the confidence of the band that’s been around for a while (over 10 years now), but the energy of a new breakout. Their set at Wayhome reflected that too, as they seamlessly shifted in-and-out of the various subgenres they’ve tackled over the years, giving audiences an Introduction to Mutemath seminar. Callbacks to earlier material like the roaring “Spotlight” (many know this song from the Twilight movie soundtrack), swinging “Blood Pressure”, and the instrumental, punctuating “Reset” showcase their strength in where this band comes from; “Used To” and “Light Up” wrap those earlier tendencies in modern synths in a way that comes across less pop-y live than one would anticipate. Lead singer Paul Meany, said that the last time they were in Canada, they battled hail. “We got Winnipegged,” he joked. Clearly that experience didn’t ruin their spirits, as Paul made his way into the audience at one point to briefly crowdsurf.
Whether in front of an intimate club crowd, opening for The Weeknd, or being one of the most anticipated acts of a large-scale festival, Banks exudes more than confidence in any performance. There’s a powerful femininity in every move that is infectious to those who attend her show. At Wayhome, Banks owned it from the outset, bringing the audience into the fold quickly as she performed “Gemini Feed” and “F— With Myself” from 2016’s The Altar early on in the show. Two supporting dancers clad in red outfits twisted and turned on the stage with Banks, bringing another element of performativity to her set. Though there were a few moments where Banks’ voice became lost in the heavy bass and dark R&B production, the energy in the audience, especially during Goddess favourites “Waiting Game” and “Beggin’ for Thread”, helped balance the experience out.
The WayAway stage hosted many up-and-coming acts in an intimate setting surrounded by trees and string lights, which especially paired beautifully with Daniel Caesar’s performance. As the evening rolled in, the heat fading away, the Toronto singer soothed, spreading a calmness that proved to be the perfect precursor to Frank Ocean’s headlining show shortly after. Songs like “We’ll Always Have Paris” and “Paradise” felt ethereal, with Daniel Caesar stronger than ever. It was great to experience his show with an audience much larger and more familiar, as it only reaffirmed what many have believed and known for years: he is a star. Let’s make his time now.
Frank Ocean did not cancel. That in itself was a huge relief when the time came for his festival-closing performance, his 6th this year and since 2013. There was no rumour or real cause for the concern, apart from a few recent instances of pulling out of a few events and shows. See, the last time Frank Ocean performed his own show in Toronto was at the Kool Haus, just after Channel Orange released. He was then scheduled to appear in Toronto for Day 1 of OVO Fest a few years back, but cancelled due to a vocal chord injury. And we all know how the tale goes for the recording and release of both Endless and blonde in 2016. The anticipation was real. Fans upon fans lined up for hours at a time to purchase exclusive Frank Ocean merchandise at his blonded pop-up. People wondered what he would perform and how. Did we conjure the idea of Frank Ocean more than we should have? What would a Frank Ocean show, 4 years, two additional albums and a handful of features and Internet single drops later, notoriety at an all-time high, look like?
It looked human.
A quiet and beautiful affair took place on the centre runway built specifically for Frank’s performance. A set of instruments, recording equipment, and a crew of supporting musicians and cameramen encircled him. It felt like we were in a home recording studio, watching Frank testing his talent, breaking his lyrical stories and reassembling them, practice, practice, then perfecting as best as he could for songs like “Good Guy” and “Solo”, forgetting the lyrics to “Forrest Gump” (he apologized, given his recent return to the stage, still remembering, still being a human). Projections of the footage shot on the video cameras made their way to the large screens adorning the back of the main WayHome stage. Those visuals looked like a documentary, focusing in on writing on the wooden floor, lurking over Frank’s shoulder as he shifted between walking and sitting on his stage, a shimmery disco ball spinning above. This is where Frank tucked himself away for years, meticulously building Endless and blonde. This was a peek into his process, his self-containment, and his home.
Frank’s performance focused on the moments that his fans relate to the most, and as a result, his show wasn’t a loud recount. The only time it headed that way was towards the end, when he performed the more uptempo and fan favourites “Thinking About You”, “Pink+White” and “Pyramids”. For the rest, it was about cuts like “Commes des Garçons”, “Chanel” and “Self Control”. And at the very end, a sing-a-long to “Nikes” was tear-inducing. The level of intimacy under the quiet, starry night, was deep; it felt like a raw connection. Not everyone was on board with it, because it wasn’t necessarily the Frank Ocean show we expected, or wanted; but it certainly felt like the one we needed. And as he walked away, there was a moment where that might be the last we’ll see of him for a while. But at least we got to really see him.
Overall Wayhome went exactly how I thought it would, the acts I came for were great but as a whole the festival seemed to be really missing the mark. Maybe it was their sub par lineup that had a little bit of everything but not enough of anything. Or maybe it was the completely disorganized and rude security. Either way all we can do is hope that if Wayhome happens again next year that they figure out the bumps in the road so it can be a better experience for everyone.