It was a bold experiment: send a stuffy prog man into the heart of a notoriously mainstream summer rock festival and see what happens. The truth is, I went in extremely open-minded, as one probably should to something one knows little about, and I came out rain-soaked with a big smile on my face. Hey, that’s a big accomplishment for a recovering cruster like myself!
After checking in with Audio Blood Inc. (these awesome folks were blessedly accommodating and professional to the gills!) my companion and I went straight to the VIP area to check out the setup and get a wider view of the main stage, although we couldn’t initially figure out what was so VI about said VIP area. There were less people and my companion noted the washrooms were cleaner! The first band we were able to take in was California’s The Neighbourhood, who were one of the many bands taking the stage that day who I didn’t know anything about. A very pop-oriented group, but the crowd ate up everything they had to offer in the mid-day heat and exploded upon hearing ‘the sweater one.’ I, however, was busy marvelling at how spectacular the sound was. Someone had gone the whole nine yards to make sure everything was audible without being bone-shatteringly loud. Usually what happens at these things is they just blast everything to account for the 20,000 people there and everything ends up distorted as hell, making stage banter almost impossible to hear. Not so at Edgefest 2013. Crystal clear audio. Every little detail was very easy to take in.
One record I have been digging recently is The Sticks, a pop-disguised concept record from B.C. natives, Mother Mother. This is a band that, much like Metric, has been around a while but is clearly flourishing with the new found popularity of eclectic indie pop. The Sticks reminds me strongly of the pop/punk/disco/art rock fusion that the Buggles laid down in 1979. When we were done watching The Neighbourhood, we went backstage to have a word with Mother Mother before their gig. While I did not engage in a full-on interview with the band, I did share some words with lead singer/guitarist Ryan Guldemond. I was intent on asking about the reading of Kipling’s classic British pride poem “If–” in the song “Cry Forum.”
In the song, an excerpt of the poem is read in Dutch, which seemed to me to be a bit of a stab at the old Brits due to the fact that the poem was written about an incident leading up to the Boer War (which was fought between the British and Dutch settlers in South Africa at the turn of the last century) where a small force lead by Sir Leander Starr Jameson attempted to overthrow the Boer government. The poem became an example of British pride, so it was odd to hear it in Dutch (although not in Afrikaans). I’d been wanting to ask about the poem’s use so this was a great opportunity. Guldemond (of Dutch background) explained to me that the poem is read on the album by his father. They had wanted to have him on the record and he chose Kipling’s “If–” (In Dutch, “Als–”) to read. Unless their old man pulled one over on them, they apparently meant no ill intent! I, for one, still dig it, considering the album’s concept of breaking out of a system.
There had also been word from Daniel Victor’s Twitter account about a future collaboration between Mother Mother and Victor’s Neverending White Lights. I was able to ask Ryan about how this was progressing. Everything’s very casual, nothing’s been done quite yet, but he seemed very excited about the prospect. I am also very excited. Shortly after, we left the band to prepare for their set and hurried off excitedly to the photo pit. Mother Mother’s set was incredible! As awesome as they are in person, their stage performance is twice that. Extremely energetic, artistic quality to the max. I was extremely pleased when they launched into a sick rendition of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Mother Mother is a 100% class act and were the performance stand-out for me.
From there, my intent was to head to the side-stage to see Capital Cities, who have a cool new tune called “Safe and Sound” which is oddly more electronic than I like, but I like it nonetheless. The music video for the song (ingeniously capturing the development of American dance) is gold amongst rubbish. We caught part of Twin Forks’ set, which was energetic but I didn’t catch enough of it to render my opinion.
My apologies to the guys in Capital Cities, but my guest wanted to see Hamilton’s Monster Truck and I obliged, despite my then opinion of them. This changed very fast. I’d only really heard two songs from ‘The Truck’ at the time and I was annoyed about how much I felt they grubbed from the old stuff without actually adding anything new to the mix. The vocal melodies on those really did nothing for me. Seeing Monster Truck live, I can now seriously appreciate what it is they do. They take some of the raw soul of old blues meat rock and channel it into a heavy, energetic modern jam that really is quite boss. These guys really enjoy what they do and I must tip my hat to Brandon Bliss on keys. Damn, dude. Without a doubt the heaviest act in this year’s festival. I was very glad my mind was changed for me and I got to see them!
And then the black clouds rolled in and Downsview Park quickly turned into the Mekong Delta (i.e. heavy rain!). We were fortunate enough to be able to find refuge in the artist compound for a bit while we waited for The Lumineers to take the stage. Arriving in the photo pit five minutes before the set started, we were treated to the rain-soaked thousands cheering and chanting for Colorado’s sensational folk act. I’m sure it was spur-of-the-moment, but The Lumineers opened with a partial rendition of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” which led into their song “The Big Parade.” We were thrilled to hear it. The absolute quality of The Lumineers’ performance is such that it sounds as brilliantly honest as it does on their record. It was also very hard to get good shots of them, as they move around a lot. The only thing we disliked tremendously was when the band abruptly stopped their sweet little hit song “Ho Hey” to tell the audience to put away their phones. While Schultz did so somewhat politely, I felt this to be mildly insulting. Dude, these are your fans, gathered in throngs in pissing ass rain because they adore you and they want to share your performance with their world by capturing a small portion of it. It took a lot of the joy out of hearing “Ho Hey” and it was very difficult to get back into it. The music of The Lumineers is so beautifully simple and fun, it just seemed like someone’s mum and dad walked in and gave everyone hell for having too much fun. Again, though, the musical performance was exceptional and Wesley Schultz’s vocals continue to amaze me. Very few flaws in front of so many people.
At the end of the night, absolutely soaked, we traversed the Downsview Swamp to leave for the night. It was a bloody mess! I felt especially bad for my guest, who was wearing sandals with very nice nail-polish! When we made it to the buses, I was blown away by the efficiency of the bus system. There was an entire line-up of buses waiting to take us back to Downsview Station. Someone planned this all out so wonderfully. We weren’t charged a penny and the wait was not long at all. This was such a relief after weathering such, erm, weather for so long. God bless Canada, but our weather can suck seriously sometimes.
I can only imagine the kind of funds that went into such a festival, but it felt safe, fun, and extremely well-run. The artists were great, the sound was stellar, and the announcements made by Toronto’s 102.1 The Edge radio personalities were very lively and entertaining. I will definitely be going again. My apologies for those artists I didn’t get to see, hopefully I will in time!