Halifax Pop Explosion is a marked change from the summer festival scene. While there are no beer gardens, Keith’s is never in short supply. The festival swaps the colossal stage of Toronto Island for the warmth of packed bars. Rather than tents, picnic blankets, and sunscreen, festivalgoers arm themselves with scarves, mittens, and umbrellas. Music-lovers inherit a mosaic of stamps connected with permanent marker that forms an impromptu tattoo to symbolise their nights of barhopping. The festival is a mere secret whispered between bus stops as fans travel from one venue to the next. Scheduling is made more complicated by coat-checks, ID checks, and checking out that girl from your ecology class dancing next to Dan Boeckner. Halifax Pop Explosion did not provide the scenic beauty of Sasquatch, the free American Apparel underwear of Osheaga, or even the toddlers sporting oversized ear protection of Toronto Island. What it did provide however, was an unadulterated intimacy. An intimacy only felt in the Pack A.D.’s spittle as they belt out songs no less than two feet away from you or the Handsome Furs spiritual cleansing and confessional at St. Matthew’s Church. The following is a record of those intimacies at HPX2010.
Forest City Lovers
Forest City Lovers describe themselves as nature-loving urban dwellers with a penchant for Canadian folk-pop. I decided to rush out on the rainy Thursday night to see them preform at the Foggy Goggle, a cozy pub nestled amidst a chain of other equally homely venues on Halifax’s Argyle Street. Festivalgoers shuffled closer to the band opting to settle on the carpet bordering the stage in hopes of catching the twinkle of Kat Burns’ gleaming outfit. The band shared a collection of bouncy folk ballads comprised of swelling string arrangements and colourful choruses. The set radiated a sort of sincerity and warmth, leaving the splatter of raindrops and cold outside a distant thought. ‘If I Were a Tree’ captured the effortless spirit of Forest City Lovers and made us all dendrophiliacs that night.
Admittedly, I’ve been calling Canada’s indie folk darling Bass-Yeah rather than the correct pronunciation Bah-Shaw. Once I had found my way around the complex linguistics, I sat down to enjoy her performance accompanied by Symphony Nova Scotia. Basia’s voice rang overtop the backing orchestra producing a colourful sound that even more impressively the symphony did not overpower. The modest Bulat looked over her shoulder and smiled sheepishly throughout the performance thanking the musicians after each song. Alternating between the auto-harp and guitar Basia shared songs from Heart of My Own and Oh, My Darling. The show was unlike any performance at Pop Explosion due to the sheer volume of sound. Basia, with the help of her brother on drums, delivered melodramatic pop songs with a romantic charm leaving you feeling as the only other person in the room.
Great Lake Swimmers
I ran downtown during the intermission in Basia Bulat’s performance to catch the Great Lake Swimmers show. The wintry October night made me question my decision to leave halfway through Bulat’s performance. Squeezing through the crowd at St. Matthew’s Church in time for the first notes of ‘Your Rocky Spine’ justified the decision. The church quickly filled with compassionate folk rock and Sufjan-esque banjo. Dekker’s voice brought light into the darkest corners echoing from the high ceilings to the crowded balconies. The band was quiet between songs aside from the occasional tuning and their humble support for the egg shakers the crowd had received throughout the show. The Great Lake Swimmers didn’t need to say much, the strum of instruments, relentless rattles, and fleeting silences carried their unspoken beauty into the night.
The Pack A.D.
I based my decision to see the Pack A.D. off a thirty-second MySpace sample of ‘Crazy’. It was easily the best decision I made during Pop Explosion. The pair of Vancouver garage rockers exploded with indecipherable slurs, distort, and fucking noise. Some bands certainly like to play loud, but the energy Pack A.D. brought to the dimly lit stage that night undoubtedly justifies the use of expletives. The description may sound familiar, and while Brian King and David Prowse didn’t play Pop Explosion this year, the Pack A.D.’s brand of garage rock hit like an angry truck made of fists. Becky Black and Maya Miller unleashed a flurry of infectious riffs in a sweaty hurricane of pounding drums. Becky yells, “We all know / As everything goes and / As everyone knows that / It all ends up crazy” because sanity just isn’t as fun after seeing the Pack A.D.
“Man, you guys must feel weird about attending a concert at a church” quipped Boeckner, “You know, because of all your problems with drugs and alcohol”. And so the Handsome Furs set began. Boeckner thrashed around the stage falling to the floor with guitar in hand yelling ‘Evangeline’ into a speaker. Alexei Perry kicked from side to side as she bounced over the drum machine. The rest of the evening devolved into dissonant guitars and metronomic beats. Boeckner sipped from his wife’s drink after spilling his own and shouted, “This next song is about the economy – and everything that’s wrong with it.” The pair then burst into ‘Legal Tender’ with jagged guitars and reverberating fuzz that filled the church, prompting Boeckner to apologise to Jesus for having Jameson’s for breakfast. The pair played a tremendous set basking in the novelty of their alcohol-fuelled church bender.
Tokyo Police Club
Tokyo Police Club is an ideal band to watch live. For starters, their songs inspire commotion and if you don’t know the words the next song is never more than two minutes away. The band encourages audience participation, so much so that there’s a Tokyo Police Club rule when they play ‘Tessellate’ – no beer claps. Dave Monks explains, “We want legit claps, so just put your beer on the ground, no one will kick it. We promise.” The band commanded all the enthusiasm from A Lesson in Crime through to their latest record Champ and delivered a pressing and euphoric performance. Tokyo Police Club is like having incredibly exciting news to tell someone and then when you try to share, your words can’t keep up with your thoughts. The analogy I’m trying to make is that the band generates such authentic energy that it’s overwhelming. ‘Your English Is Good’ is a flood of youthful chanting wrapped in a carefree chorus, the band closed Halifax Pop Explosion 2010 with more excitement than one could ask for.