by Mark Anthony Brennan
First off on Day Two of Rifflandia was virtually the whole day’s slate at Royal Athletic Park. Unfortunately I missed Reuben and the Dark, but did catch Glorious Sons, Born Ruffians and Dragonette under the Rifftop Tent. Over on the Main Stage New York’s We Are Scientists brought out their sophisticated indie rock to an appreciative crowd. Then I went through a time warp and witnessed AC/DC playing music off their new album ‘Highway to Hell’. No, wait, that was Australia’s Airbourne, but the resemblance to their more famous fellow countrymen is uncanny. Admittedly nothing new here, but these guys do know how to rock, even though they were almost upstaged by Willy the Crowd Surfing Orca. Finally, Serena Ryder took the stage and delighted the crowd with her energetic set that ran the gamut from power pop, to soul, to blues and to folk. Highlight for me was when the sun set behind the stage as she related the story of visiting Duncan at a very early point in her career and encountering an old hotel that Ryder swears was haunted. A magical moment.
My evening was a wild rollercoaster ride of the wild, the weird and the dangerous. At the Copper Owl I caught Vancouver’s COOL (or Cool TV, as they called themselves). The band includes Adrian Teacher (singer/guitarist) and Amanda Pezzutto (switching from drums to bass) both formerly with Apollo Ghosts. Their music is lively, jangly, funky post-punk. The drummer (Shawn Mrazek) and bass player approached their roles with industrious precision, but Teacher was a bundle of manic energy – the guy seemed to have internal springs as he constantly jumped about the stage and even out into the crowd (that’s really not difficult to do in such an intimate venue). A fun and thoroughly enjoyable set.
Cowards could not have been more radically different. Their music was brooding, heavy, dark and somber. Part goth, part experimental post-rock, it was a fascinating performance that had us mesmerized and more than a little perplexed. A particularly odd moment was when the bass player (who shared singing duties with the lead guitarist and keyboardist) went into the crowd and whispered something in the ear of an audience member. On the way back to the “stage” he sang/yelled directly in my face, which I admit was borderline scary.
I next nipped on down to one of my favourite venues in town, the Victoria Event Centre, which is a small place above Broad Street that features a long guitar-shaped table at one end. It was sweaty and the floor sticky with spilt beer by the time JPNSGRLS hit the stage. They were one of my picks for the festival and they did not disappoint. In fact, I gained a whole new respect for them because their high-octane live performance exceeded their recorded efforts. Backed by solid spine-crunching performances by guitar, bass and drums, front man Charlie Kerr was a one-man wrecking crew with his jumping, dancing, writhing and push-ups (!). Highlight for me was “Brandon”, which was already one of my favourite tracks of the year – even more so now.
I finished off the night with a quick visit to two late-night offerings. London, Ontario’s Single Mothers startled everyone when, on the very first note, the lead singer propelled himself high into the air. He proceeded to smash over several full-grown men like so many bowling pins and ended up face-down on the ground about five feet away from me. I thought he might have knocked himself out, but then I noticed he was still singing away. He quickly bounced right back up and it was on with the show. Pure, unbridled mayhem. Before I headed home I checked out the electropop duo Sidney York right across the street at Studio CMCT. The women were laying down some nice grooves, but I’m afraid I just can’t warm up to the chilly confines of this venue.