By: Tom Beedham (@Tom_Beedham) –
The first night of Wavelength 14 took place at The Silver Dollar in Toronto last night and featured Hooded Fang side project Phèdre, who released their second album, Golden Age, on October 1st, 2013 via Daps Records, electronic experimental band Zoo Owl, who released their debut single, “Twin Mirror”, on November 22nd, 2013, Montreal-based indie pop singer-songwriter Alden Penner, who released an EP called Precession, last year and a new album, Exegesis, earlier this month, and Canadian dream pop band You’ll Never Get To Heaven, who released a self-titled album on October 18th, 2012 via Divorce Records.
Phèdre @ The Silver Dollar
For what was once referred to pretty unanimously as Daniel Lee and April Aliermo’s Hooded Fang side project, oddball party powerhouse Phèdre has absorbed plenty of its own attention. The group’s already followed up its February 2012 self-titled debut LP with another—Golden Age—recorded in Berlin, and when the group headlined the opening night ofWL14, there was a devoted fanbase packed into the Silver Dollar to sing along to its happily weird and mind-bending anthems.
Decked out in all white hoodies that made perfect blank canvases they opened with a (presumed) hype speech delivered in German by impassioned, scarf-disguised Hooded Fang bandmate D. Alex Meeks (Holiday Rambler), who next theatrically tripped, fell, and lay on the stage for some time. It looked legitimate, though not severe enough to requireany attention. Whatever the situation, Phèdre’s live performances seem to make striving for perfection less a virtue than they do letting loose and having fun. They took it all in stride and proceeded into the early hours of Valentine’s Day with Golden Age intro “Inifinity Chamber.”
That spirit seemed consistent throughout the sometimes wobbly, always danceable performance. Aliermo even commented on the title-referencing lyrics to “Atomic Love” mid-song: “what the fuck does that mean?!”
Even when technical difficulties required some waiting between tracks early in the set, Aliermo—ever the MC—used the space between “Supernatural” and “Aquarius” to wish frequent Phèdre dancer Leah Gold a Happy Birthday and suggested the crowd give her “hugs, kisses, birthday shots, licks, or whatever makes you feel happy.”
For the most part, the group stuck to cuts from Golden Age, but they did forego a rendition of its “Death of Cupid” narrative, which made it a happy night for Valentines indeed.
Zoo Owl @ The Silver Dollar
It was a setup that should have required advanced night vision to observe it properly.
The instruments on the stage were familiar enough—a sampling machine, effect pedals, and a floor tom all sat at the front of stage—but a black sheet was strewn across a drum kit in the background to make it less conspicuous, and the only light in the room came from a floor-placed desk lamp.
It was apparent to anyone in the audience unfamiliar with Bryan Sutherland’s psychedelic electronic act Zoo Owl that they were in for something special at WL14. But they couldn’t have seen this coming.
Sutherland kicked things off slow: an atmospheric buildup from the sampler; some skin beating on the tom.
But then things took a left turn. Sutherland started worshipping a tall glass of water, making motions requesting people to gaze upon it in its clear liquid form. Then the glass itself lit up. Sutherland drank, and what happened onstage descended into surrealist propaganda. Sutherland dipped below his sampler and reemerged with a light in his mouth, his head turning like a sentinel, casting light on parts of the audience as if searching for a transgressor to scold. In time, he descended again, and returned this time with goggles that had LEDs for lenses.
To the crowd, Sutherland addressed the eyewear as possessing the power to do “the opposite of what your eyes do,” instead facilitating “inner vision.”
He pulled out a laser field projector, and from there, Zoo Owl had reign over the crowd with a control so total there was at once a dedicated crew dancing along to his echoing trance spell while others were content to let the laser beams shoot into their faces and engage the alpha waves in their brains.
No one was sure what Zoo Owl’s motivation was in all this, but we can presume it worked.
Alden Penner @ The Silver Dollar
Rolling into Toronto just a day after divulging in an interview that his former band The Unicorns were working towards a reunion of sorts—news that unsurprisingly piqued the interests of international music publications but has already been somewhat deflated—you could cut the tension in the front row of Alden Penner’s solo set at WL14 with a knife. Although he did use set time to make somewhat awkward banter about eating lamb kebabs during his last visit to Toronto (as means of a segue into “Beauty of the Lamb”), Penner kept decidedly mum on the subject of breathing new life into The Unicorns at The Silver Dollar.
Observably more concerned with shedding proper light on new solo effort Exegesis (on a personal level for Penner, it is a compilation of material he’s been incubating since high school), they constructed their set of mostly cuts from Exegesis—“Precession,” and the darker “We Seek” among them—fans of Penner’s other projects weren’t left entirely unappreciated: Penner (joined by partner and Exegesis co-producer Laura Crapo on drums and Sebastian Chow of Islands on violin) did offer a reworking of “Elope” by his former band, Clues. Since we’re on the topic of reunions, take from that what you will.
You’ll Never Get To Heaven @ The Silver Dollar
One might not expect to find purveyors of a particularly narcoleptic dream pop—a label once typified by guitar music and its effect pedal-oriented (and derisively labeled) “shoegazing” forebears—to make a point of deploying sampled material in its enchantments, but partners Alice Hansen and Chuck Blazevic have figured out a way to make a gig of relying on that technology almost exclusively.
Across the partners’ material, the chilly down-tempo beats and tone washes that Blazevic spends the sets eliciting from his sampling machines are enough to carry you off to another plane of awareness. Less consistently present (though always welcome), Hansen’s atmospheric vocals aren’t held back and “buried” by any genre tendencies, but instead emerge from Blazevic’s impressionistic sound paintings, bringing listeners back down to earth. And considering that the festival tasked them with opening the first night of a four-night festival (and effectually WL14 as a whole), it was easy to appreciate an act that sedated its listeners without charging them to reach for their pillows.