Rifflandia 2009 Day 1

Photos by Aretha Munro

On Thursday evening the greatly anticipated second annual Rifflandia Music Festival in Victoria, British Columbia began. Earlier in the evening we received word that the festival had sold out of wristbands, another sign of a great weekend to come and what would be an improvement upon what was a largely successful debut last year. The festival, which takes place over four days, sees upwards of 75 musical acts grace the stages of 7 different venues throughout the BC capital. Highlights include Tegan and Sara, Beach House, K-Os, Said the Whale, Dan Mangan, Pink Mountaintops, Mother Mother, Holy Fuck, and Buck 65….and that’s just naming a few.

Christopher SmithWith so many acts playing at the same time at different venues, we were forced to come to some difficult decisions, but our first night did not disappoint. Starting out at Alix Goolden Hall, a church and world-class performance hall, singer-songwriter Christopher Smith took the stage with his band The Beckon Call for an understated, beautiful performance. Singing laid-back, nostalgic songs with a concentrated ease, Mr. Smith impressed the crowd and made for an anticipatory beginning to the festival. With him and his three band-mates sharply dressed, comb-overs in place, shirts tucked in, you could tell that something special was going on. Though he was shy at times, and seemed quite new to the stage, it is evident that this is just the beginning for the East Vancouver based musician, as the performance was a pleasure to experience.

Following Christopher Smith we quickly popped over to the smaller more intimate Metro Theatre, where the one and only Hannah Georgas performed an electrifying acoustic set to an undoubtedly impressed crowd. With a gorgeous and commanding voice, the Vancouver-based singer-songwriter performed a set of songs off her 2009 EPs The Beat Stuff, and The Quarter that left one feeling whimsical and optimistic, and in want of more. With upcoming dates opening for City and Colour, as well as Vancouver’s Said the Whale during their impending Canadian tour, Hannah’s horizon looks deservedly peachy.

Hannah GeorgasBack at Alix Goolden Hall, Toronto group Timber Timbre headed by Taylor Kirk flooded the venue with haunting and hypnotizing folk-blues that could only be described as brilliant. Without a doubt a break through act of the evening, Timber Timbre floored the audience with intense, and climactic music that could send some into a trance. Their 2009 self-titled album was long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, unsurprisingly, as at times I caught myself closing my eyes just to take it all in. The response at the end of the performance was overwhelmingly positive and if there wasn’t enough of a buzz surrounding them before, there will be now.

As goes with most large events, not everything will run perfectly, and minutes before Final Fantasy was set to hit the stage and finish off the evening of performances at Alix Goolden Hall, festival-goers received word that the man behind the music, Owen Pallett, had fallen seriously ill, and would not be able to perform. Though many were disappointed, the spirit of Rifflandia took over as plans were quickly re-arranged, and fans made there way to the various venues around town. One popular alternative was Element Nightclub, were Vancouver’s beloved Said the Whale had taken the stage following a performance by Dan Mangan (which I heard was great – not surprisingly). Performing old favorites, in addition to some new tunes off their upcoming album “Islands Disappear,” the band flooded the stage with energy as the venue flooded with even more people. Highlights include their newer tune “Love is Art,” which is beautifully written, reaching climactic moments that had the crowd cheering. With songs that seem to come from a soundtrack of a life lived on the West Coast, the bands new tunes appear to have stayed true to a common theme, while also building upon it. A little edgier, and more refined, Said the Whale seemed to have successfully taken lessons learned from previous albums and tours and transformed them into another set of West-Coast indie rock anthems. I simply can’t wait to hear the rest of the album. During the last of their set, Vancouver’s Dan Mangan joined the band on stage and after they finished there were high-fives, hugs, and pats on the back all around – a perfect showing of the supportive and positive spirit of Vancouver’s local music scene – and how it has no trouble crossing waters.

Beach HouseFollowing Said the Whale we quickly headed over to Sugar Nightclub to catch the tail end of Beach House’s performance. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Beach House is the musical styling of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, who create dreamy, and at times spooky indie rock. With their impressive live sound, Legrand’s vocals were a focal point of the group’s performance, which took place in front of a geometrical stage set that created a spacey theme within the venue. With much of the packed house evidently hearing something new and exciting, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

After catching a glimpse of the great things Beach House had to offer, we rushed down to Market Square’s outdoor venue to see the widely acclaimed Shad perform his Juno and Polaris prize nominated hip hop tunes to a packed house. As a matter of fact, the venue was at capacity, which simply spoke to the well-deserved buzz surrounding the London, Ontario based artist. Engaging the crowd, free-styling at times, and throwing down some impressive beats Shad was definitely a highlight of the evening, and evidence of the wide variety of diverse musical acts that Rifflandia offered this year.

With the evening coming to a close, we decided to finish it off with a trip to Lucky Bar where Vancouver’s Longwalkshortdock treated the crowd to a mind-blowing DJ set that bounced between electro, house, ambient, acid and all things that would make one want to do nothing but dance. While Guns ‘n’ Bombs and Half Alive were the DJs that made waves during Rifflandia 2008, Dave King of Longwalkshortdock has undoubtedly taken over that position this year, and is an act not to be missed.

Overall, the opening night of Rifflandia 2009 set the stage for what was bound to be another memorable and jam-packed celebration of music of all kinds.