Recap and photos – Halifax Pop Explosion Oct. 21 2009
– recap by Liz Stanton/photos by Ayla Harker
Fall in Nova Scotia means two things: an abrupt shift in temperature (from t-shirts to flannels, in a matter of days) and the Halifax Pop Explosion. One of these is cooler than the other – I’ll let you guess which one.
For those not native to the ‘fax, the Explosion is less about pop in the typical Top 40 radio sense than it is a sort of five-day celebration of all music, be it indie, folky, or crazy Icelandic-dancey. I missed the Tuesday night kick-off because of midterms (thanks for nothing, Shakespeare), but by Wednesday, I was more than ready to hit some shows.
Halifax is a relatively small city, which makes it easy to bounce from venue to venue in search of the best shows the Explosion has to offer. On Wednesday, we headed first to the All Wound Up showcase at Gus’ Pub on Agricola. Gus’ was less than half full at 10 pm, but the first band, The Fat Stupids, was already rocking out onstage.
The Fat Stupids play good old-fashioned pop-punk, the kind that reminds you of Blink 182’s early releases – fun, kind of vulgar, and fast as hell. I can’t speak to their stupidity, but no one in the three-man band seemed particularly fat, so that was kind of a disappointment.
On the plus side, though, their music had even this rhythmically-challenged white girl doing some kind of awkward hip-shimmy thing. Flashbacks to teenage angst ensued, but not the bad kind. It was a shame that there wasn’t more of an audience for the Halifax band’s set, but they burned through their songs in record time and ended up playing covers (“It’s okay…we know hundreds of these”) to fill time.
Following the Fat Stupids, the Stolen Minks took the forest-wallpapered stage in style. The female garage trio each took turns on the mic, howling out tunes like the one described as a “love song to [their] ’91 Toyota.”
After the first song, the bass player grinned into her mic. “Sometimes, when we get too drunk, we like to get the audience to sing along to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. Let’s do it.” The audience got into it with some hearty “wimowehs”. I’m pretty sure it was impossible for anyone to hate the Stolen Minks following that interaction, and they continued to charm throughout their set, though vocals were almost impossible to hear most of the time. Is that appropriately garage-style, or just a bad mix?
As we entered the Paragon on Gottingen, Sprengjuhöllin (or, as I wrote in my notes, “Sprengysomething”) were mid-song, playing some aching ballad that climaxed when the singer jumped off stage and – made out with? Rubbed against? Something? – a group of girls. The hipster Jimmy Page lookalike on keyboards leaned over to the mic and yelled to the merch girl that the girls “with the salty stuff on their faces” were all getting free shirts. Ah, Reykjavík’s finest.
The boys from Iceland weren’t all ballads, though – Sprengjuhöllin were at the top of the charts in their home country in 2007, and at the Paragon they played the kind of catchy, melodic tunes that have them looking nicely poised to fare well on this continent too. The ladies in the room certainly loved them, and even my awkward shuffle found itself getting a little crazier.
Finally, right around midnight, Mates of State made their rather unassuming entrance. Husband-and-wife duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel are pretty much the epitome of cute – when Gardner knocked over a beer bottle with her foot, she ran backstage to get paper towels while a helpless-looking sound tech trailed her. No diva dramatics here, thankfully.
Of course, once they started, Gardner and Hammel brought their patented giant sound to the fore. It’s not their fault they’re so adorable, and their songs about love are so catchy, and they gaze soulfully into each others’ eyes while they play. No, none of that is their fault, but it is almost irritatingly endearing.
Mates of State played plenty off of 2008’s Re-Arrange Us, but pacified old fans with a few favourites like “Ha Ha”. They even pulled off a pretty good Tom Waits cover. Is there anything this power couple can’t do?