@ Lee’s Palace, Toronto
March 5, 2016
As I file into Lee’s Palace among a sea of people I can hear the droning sound of openers “Walrus” filling the room. It’s 10PM and the place is rammed tight with fans, a cute and interesting group; it must be couple’s night. Oddly, the vast majority of people here seemed to be in a relationship with one another. Apparently Wintersleep is a great date night. I didn’t get the memo.
Feeling lonely, I order a shot of Jim Beam and a Pilsner, and start to squeeze my way up to a good vantage point. First visual impression of opening band Walrus: awkward. A hodge-podge of Giant-Tiger apparel and baseball caps had me feeling transported somewhere else entirely; perhaps a small club in Halifax. Maybe this is what they’re going for, fine by me.
Walrus are self-stylized “Psychedelic-Pop”, and that seems pretty accurate. They sound like a cross between early Sloan and Beach-Blanket-Bingo, with some deep stoner grooves thrown in for good measure. The rhythm section is spectacular, and they won me over in a short period of time. Highly melodic with interesting timing and chord changes, Walrus is a perfect choice to open for Wintersleep… and it probably doesn’t hurt that they’re from Halifax.
Wintersleep saunter on stage and wave hello. They open with “Lifting Cure”, a brand new song from their newly released album The Great Detachment. It’s a catchy, optimistic sounding tune followed by the even more upbeat “Santa Fe” which resounds with the phrase “Baby gimme one more night” With a quick guitar change Wintersleep launches into their hit “Archaeologists” (Chorus: “Belly of the whale, belly of the whale…”) followed by the now decidedly tongue-in-cheek “Orca”.
Like the act of hibernation, Wintersleep is deep. I started to really understand the crowd, as I watched men and women singing along to every word for “Laser Beams”. These people are intelligent. Paul Murphy is a poet-hero. They have no need for bracelets, necklaces or tattoos. That’s not what their audience wants. There will be no devil-horns raised at a Wintersleep concert. There will be questions, eyebrows and spirits raised.
The crowd eventually showed its true colours and began to get a little more rowdy by the end of the night. After all, we’d been together a long time; Wintersleep played for well over an hour and a half. That’s lots of time to get drunk. There was a truly beautiful moment après encore, when everyone just started screaming, not wanting them to go. That was somewhere around song 17 according to my notes. All Paul Murphy could do was smile and play one more song: the fantastic “Nerves Normal, Breath Normal” with an incredible drum breakdown in the middle that never became monotonous or interfered with the song. It was the perfect finish to a long night of East Coast Alt-Rock.
Having seen Wintersleep in such an intimate setting, I feel humbled. Humbled by the artistry, and humbled by the fans themselves. In a world where we often feel disconnected with people, it’s an honour to share a room with people who make an effort to understand and connect with an artist. After fifteen years it seems Wintersleep is truly understood. People really get them, and they will be fans indefinitely.
If you’re a musician, you could show up just for Loel Campbell’s drums alone. Wintersleep weave a beautiful tapestry of music, and never seem to be fighting each other for time and space. They don’t dress it up, their music speaks for itself. Wintersleep’s music doesn’t so much demand your attention; there are plenty of catchy tunes and repeated choruses. It seduces you, tempts you to look a little more in depth at what’s really going on. Come on out of your cave, yawn and stretch and squint into the sun. There’s a brand new world out there waiting for you, full of hope and peril.
– James Stefanuk
(Photography by James Stefanuk)
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Nerves Normal, Breath Normal