After my one year hiatus from this city, I returned to witness the fifth edition of the London Ontario Live Arts Festival, affectionately referred to as LOLA. Each September, the hipsters of the city descend on Victoria Park to witness four days of free music and art installations. While I missed out on seeing Yoko Ono’s billboard, I was focussed on the musical portion of the festival. What follows is a brief overview of this year’s LOLAfest.
LOLA kicked off Thursday night with a double bill from Zeus and Jamie Lidell at Rum Runners. Although unlike the rest of the festival it was a pay event, it seemed to offer the most value. It’s a wonder more bands don’t play Rum Runners, aside from some poorly placed columns, it’s a fairly intimate venue, and the upper balcony offers an alternate perspective. During NXNE, I saw Zeus perform at El Mocambo following the Golden Dogs as a secret act. I hadn’t listened to them at the time, so I didn’t feel terrible leaving midset, as I was tired and amped for Pavement the next day. Perhaps feeling remorse for the slight, I thought I would give them another shot. Zeus’ classic rock-inspired style was a bit odd considering the headliner, but I found I enjoyed them much more when not half-asleep. The band members frequently traded vocals as well as instruments, adding great variety and spontaneity to the set. Leaving the stage with shouts for an encore, the band could have easily been a headliner, as there were just as many people coming to see them as Jamie Lidell.
Jamie Lidell was a pure wild card. Other than some less than impressive tracks from MySpace, I had no clue who this man was or what to expect. I had a feeling his funk/soul vibe would translate better in the live arena, and it was a gamble I was glad to have won. Lidell emerged on the smoky stage wearing some sort of rainbow poncho, resembling some sort of crazy hippie. Subsequently, that crazy hippie began to conduct a crazy dance party. He filled the space between songs with amusing and quirky banter, including admitting he knew nothing of our fair city, and dedicating a song to everyone’s bums. It was a great surprise to start the festival.
My Brightest Diamond
Though acts were performing in the Victoria Park bandshell for much of the day, I didn’t make it out on Friday until My Brightest Diamond hit the stage. Shara Worden contributed the Forest Queen’s vocals on the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, but I never checked out her main project. While introducing a song about the north wind with a fable, she emitted a somewhat eerie kindergarten teacher vibe. The music was a little too spacey for me at the time, so I only caught a bit of their set.
I hate Say It. It feels like the band took every ounce of life from Red, Yellow and Blue and left an awkward, joyless mess. But the band first caught my interest during a live performance, and I was hoping they still brought some joy to the stage. The band is now a four-piece, though the new member never seemed to have much to do aside from the adding occasional keys or backing guitar. Aside from ‘Sole Brother’ and perhaps ‘What to Say’, the new material didn’t really resonate. Thankfully, the band inserted some old favourites into the set list, including highlights like ‘Hummingbird’ and ‘Foxes Mate for Life’. I was left wanting more after they finished with ‘I Need a Life’ as an encore, but the 11 o’clock curfew was a strict one.
Land of Talk
Land of Talk was the first band on my Saturday schedule, but due to an impromptu game of Castle Crashers, I sadly missed out on their set. I haven’t heard Cloak and Cipher yet, but by all accounts it’s pretty awesome, and I recall enjoying the band as openers for Wintersleep several years ago. I’m sorry Liz Powell, maybe next time.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Caribou, but felt I should give the live show a shot. They gave an entertaining performance; Dan Snaith jumped between several instruments, but was at his best when on drums. I always enjoy the interplay between duelling percussionists. The backdrop featured the album art from Swim swirling and changing colours in a kaleidoscopic fashion, adding an interesting visual element to the show. ‘Leave House’ was a highlight, and Jeremy Greenspan from Junior Boys contributed guest vocals to a track. Of course, that left me wishing I was seeing Junior Boys instead of Caribou.
After five years, LOLA continues to grow exponentially. Though the acts booked may not have been my first choice, there was some definite star power this year, and the shift away from solely showcasing avant-garde instrumental post-rock was a welcome development. The city seems to be experiencing a resurgence in the music scene, with the Alex P. Keaton being reborn as APK Live and the presence of several DIY groups like the 379 Collective and the Oh! Records family. Suddenly I’m not being starved of shows to go to. It’s a good time to be in London.