HFX Pop Explosion: Hue, Wildlife & Bonjay

Thursday night seemed primed for disaster from the start. After barely escaping an encounter with a giant puddle, I experienced further mishap with a generously prepared falafel pita and when Dan and I arrived at Tribeca at 7 pm for Hue we overheard a gentleman, who we assumed to be the stage manager, making an emergency call for a sound tech. We were stoked on the lineup so we decided to have a seat and drink and beer and waited to see if the situation would resolve itself. The band was able to go on, about forty minutes behind schedule, and before they even played a note Dan and I were both impressed by how patient and optimistic they were about the setbacks, chatting amiably with the tech who was called in as the poor guy scrambled to pull things together.

I have to say that Hue was definitely worth the wait. A five piece group featuring the vocals (and dancing) of Danny Paton, Hue is the kind of upbeat, melodic pop that makes you want to smile and tap your feet. The crowd was thin at Tribeca for their set, but the people who were there were upfront and dancing. The members of Hue brought an infectious and almost bubbly energy to the stage, though I did worry at times that Patton was going to dance through the mic stands or into the drum kit behind him. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the tech, the sound never really came together and when the set ended I felt that I and the audience alike had missed out on the complexity of their sound. That said, I was certainly convinced that I’d catch this band again and give their discography a strong listen based on their enthusiasm and grace, so maybe this show was exactly what it should have been.

Following Hue, we had the opportunity to check out Calgary’s Deadhorse, a band that Dan talks about in more detail in his review. I will say that the sound problems that weren’t hugely noticeable for Hue became a much bigger issue for Deadhorse and their swampy, garage-rock sound. By the time their set was over I had serious concerns about permanent ear damage from the volume spikes and was pretty disappointed to have not been able to enjoy a band that I was really into. Clearly, this was the worst night I could have picked to have forgotten my earplugs, a rookie mistake I would come to sorely regret.

My ears were still ringing by the time Toronto’s Wildlife opened their set, but the crowd was getting bigger and as the best vantage points were closer to the stage I ambitiously moved up front, not wanting to miss out on the stage energy and antics that this band brings. Complemented by smoke machines and creative lighting, this was a show I was happy to be up close for. Lead singer Dean Povinski was outfitted in a walking cast but it didn’t seem to impede him much as he bounced and danced around the small stage. Likewise, his bandmates were equally energized; at one point drummer Dwayne Christie hopped up on his throne and started drumming on the wall behind him. Exuberant, loud and bold, this band is one to watch, in every sense of the term. Beyond their amazing live shows, I can’t wait to see what comes next for this band and how they follow up on the release of their full-length EP last year, Strike Hard, Young Diamond.

Sadly, yet again, the sound mix was loud enough to be painful and after the first five songs I was forced to move to the back of the room to prevent what felt like imminent eardrum implosions. Considering that Wildlife employed their own tech for the show, it seems as though the issues with sound had more to do with the room and equipment than the efforts of the techs, which is too bad since Tribeca is such a great room otherwise.

At this point it seemed like a good time to return to a venue that we had previously noted for its excellent sound capabilities, The Seahorse. Featuring an electro heavy lineup, this show might not have been as enticing to us were it not for We Were Lovers. We had the inside scoop on this Saskatoon trio as they played a TWM show at Rancho Relaxo last week. Dan has more to say on this set, but let me just say that we almost had to resort to an arm wrestling match as we argued who would get to write up this band.

Closing the night was Bonjay, a duo now from Toronto but originally from Ottawa. Vocalist Alana Stuart explained to the crowd that she and producer Ian “Pho” Swain got their improbable start doing “fucked up” covers in Ottawa’s Chinatown. Bonjay is an electro dance party with R&B hooks and Suart had the sold out crowd eating of her hand as she danced and sang almost to collapse. My first experience with Bonjay was hearing the single from their EP Broughtupsy, Stumble/Creepin on CBC Radio 3. Within a week I had the EP on vinyl courtesy of the now defunct Criminal Records and it’s a record that gets a lot of play in my house. I can’t overstate how much multiple listens are necessary for any Bonjay track. Beyond the surface of the danceable electro sound is a complexity in beat, vocals and lyrics that is absolutely captivating. Somehow, despite my appreciation for their music, I missed out on seeing Bonjay live until last night. What a fool, I.

At the end of the set the audience demanded more, and though they had exhausted the tracks from their EP and planned covers, Stuart and Swain improvised with another song that had the entire dance floor throwing their arms in the air. Stuart high-fived those closest to her as she revved up into some vocal effects so phenomenal that I thought at first they must have been looped in by Swain. Swain, who hadn’t taken the mic throughout the set, thanked the crowd at the end and in particular thanked Halifax for having their own type of food, the mighty donair. As a former Haligonian and appreciator of the Halifax donair,  I’ll go ahead and admit that as this point I pretty much swooned.

Meghan Swinkels

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Filed under halifax pop, live reviews, news, photos, reviews, seen and heard

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