By: Tom Beedham (@Tom_Beedham) –
The third night of Wavelength 14 took place at the Polish Combatants Hall in Toronto on Saturday night and featured 2x Polaris Prize short-lister, mesmerizing bass saxophone colossus, and touring member of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, Colin Stetson, who released his fourth album, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light, on April 29th, 2013 via Constellation Records, Meghan Remy’s interstellar take on ‘60s AM radio pop, US Girls, Nick Sewell’s monsteriffic psych-rock band Biblical, who will release their new album, New Damage, on March 10th, Alexandra MacKenzie’s percussion-driven chant-pop project Petra Glynt, and Montreal-based sound-art & noise-electronic improvisations by Lisa Gamble (aka Gambletron).
Colin Stetson @ Polish Combatants Hall
Colin Stetson is well accustomed to tests of sheer endurance. The epic, elephantine sounds he conjures out of his bass saxophone are demanding of not just a seemingly bottomless lung capacity; his avant-garde approach to saxophone sound—he straps a mic to his jugular to amplify a cross-section of his circular breathing (an eerie, atmospheric sound normally so subtle it goes unheard), while additional contact microphones are fitted to his instruments’ bodies to build the percussive sounds of the valve fluctuations into his compositions—further requires a frenetic fingering technique and an aptitude for multi-tasking. It is not a task for those lacking in physical nor mental stamina.
On Feb. 15, concertgoers at the Polish Combatants Hall were able to witness Stetson perform works from the two Polaris-nominated instalments of his New History Warfare trilogy, but with a further twist.
If blood rushing to his head and strategic hyperventilation wasn’t enough, #WL14 upped the ante for Stetson in a way, coupling his literally breathtaking concert performances with another test of fortitude, blasting the overwhelmingly dizzying swirls of colour provided by General Chaos (a.k.a. Stephen Lindsey)—the fest’s go-to light projectionist for 14 years—so that they were cast all over his person and the surrounding stage for the entirety of his set. For any normal person, you’d think that would be a recipe for some kind of hypersensitive implosion, but it didn’t faze Stetson.
The musician churned out astonishing renditions of tracks like “Judges,” “To See More Light” and “Part Of Me Apart From You” that spread an infectious breathlessness, keeping the entirety of the hall’s audience at a stand still.
The audience hung on every note—making interruptive peeps only to cheer on the markedly technical moments of numbers like his set opening extended version of “Among the Sef”—until he ended each song, and they responded with uproariously jubilant furor when Stetson broke after each song to switch back and forth between sax rigs.
During those breaks, Stetson was offhand and casual with the audience, cracking wise about about how it was nice to beback in the “so apologetic” Toronto. And while he didn’t acknowledge the General Chaos surrounding him, he was markedly thrown off when he noticed the live modular synth projection Hard Science had shot onto the adjacent wall, live streaming Stetson’s every move as though visualized by a colourfully scrambled cable channel.
“In what year did it become okay to put sax on a wall?!”
US Girls @ Polish Combatants Hall
Meghan Remy’s U.S. Girls is like Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails in that they are both the reclusive undertakings of independent, isolated minds. The titles imply plural involvement where in fact there is very little (if any) input coming from any outside sources. Also not unlike Reznor, apparently, Remy has realized the utility of having a full band on hand to bring things together on a live platform.
Although Remy rounded up an outfit to perform at 961a College Street back in December, giving further clout to the NINcomparisons, the group that assembled as U.S. Girls this time to play spacey covers of love songs—Paul McCartney and Wings’s “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”—for Wavelength Music Festival changed up the format again: this time consisting of Simone TB of Ell V Gore on drums, Tim Westberg of Slim Twig and Smartboys rotating through guitar, bass, and piano duties, and Biblical drummer Jay Anderson on a rattle. So while Remy seems to be open to the idea of opening the doors to other musicians, at the same time, the Feb. 15th gig made it clear she’s not about to become confined to a structure that becomes dependent on a particular lineup.
Biblical @ Polish Combatants Hall
When Nick Sewell declared multiple times throughout Biblical’s set that “We are Biblical,” the bass wielding frontman seemed to do so not just as a means of informing the audience whom to ask about at the merch table, but also as an adjective for the group’s grandiose approach to the aggressive technical riffage it clearly prides itself on. He might have had better luck elsewhere, however.
Although Biblical had amassed a small contingent of head banging listeners at the front of the crowd partway through its set, the band seemed to turn more away than it attracted. Performing on a bill featuring projects more inclined towards challenging traditionalized modes of musical and social conduct, perhaps the macho coding Biblical routes the aesthetic of both its live posturing and its take on stoner rock and face melting “metal” was what did it, but it wasn’t long into the band’s set that interest (and the audience with it) waned.
It’s not as though Sewell was oblivious to the situation, though. He baited the eye rollers with a claim halfway through his set with a statement jesting that the band would have just two more 25-minute songs and then it would be over. It was still hard to tell if he was just joking or exaggerating the reality of the situation, but if this was anywhere else , they would have torned the roof off of the hall.
Petra Glynt @ Polish Combatants Hall
The second performance of the night (and the first one to make use of the actual stage) saw Alexandra MacKenzie provide a short set of the transcendentally, operatically inclined chant-pop tracks from her Petra Glynt project. Having just released her first collection of songs—the Of This Land cassette EP—in June 2013, MacKenzie’s set was limited to tracks from that output of challenging soundscapes—with the exception of her soon thereafter released “This You Need” single. Always noted for the visual components of her shows, MacKenzie gave her Wavelength performance from the centre of massive kaleidoscopic visual projections provided by Steve Reaume.
Gambletron @ Polish Combatants Hall
When Lisa Gamble first addressed those gathered at the Polish Combatants Hall on Saturday it made for what was likely the only moment throughout her entire set that made immediate sense to anyone in attendance.
“Hi, I’m Gambletron, and I’m gonna do this backwards and thank you before I do anything,” said Gamble, her voice crinkled by the static of the portable P.A. system she spoke through.
Backwards indeed. The way Gamble approaches music with her Gambletron project is less as a musician and more as an explorer of the relationship shared between space and sound. In fact, “backwards” might be too linear a descriptor for what Gambletron is.
As it she began, Gamble’s setup was an interactive noise environment that forced people to reconsider the conventional notions of a concert setting. Positioned on the floor of the hall itself, Gamble had arranged a myriad of boom boxes, a table of modified electronic toys, and even a knitted wire structure somehow modeled into an effective theremin of sorts.
Beginning as a screaming wall of discordant noise and feedback, the long-form improvised piece later evolved into a dance party-ready jam that climaxed with a pretty selective sample of Azealia Banks’s “212.”
As curious as it was to most , all the analogue electronic experimenting going seemed to make a convincing argument suggesting a return to a world of rabbit ears—though alien and technologically “regressive”—might not be so bad.