Live at Squamish

A group of us went to the Live at Squamish festival the weekend of August 20th. I was a little nervous about it – most festivals have a tendency to treat their patrons like cattle with bags o’money – and I’ve been a little crowd nervous these days. I went, armed with a plan of sunning myself while listening to some decent bands and the mantra “not my problem”!

I was pleasantly surprised. The campground was not your typical festival camp. Instead of being a mile-square field littered with first-time drinkers, frat boys, and bimbos, it was a maybe-quarter-acre with a relatively laid back, low key crowd of probably 75 tents. Security was actively present, but wasn’t cracking down on a reasonable amount of drinking, “festival substances”, and noise. Food prices were reasonable, water stations were abundant, and the music was great. Well done, organizers!

As far as the performances go, the two acts I was most impressed with were two I had very little interest in to begin with.  The first was Shane Koyczan. Anyone who watched the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics will remember him as the poet who so eloquently summed up Canadian identity. It was like a Molson commercial, without the “crappy beer marketing” hangover. Since then, he’s kind of had his hands in a lot of other “Canadiana” things, and, honestly, seemed over-hyped and a bit one-note. But hearing him read his poetry live was amazing. Sure, he has a well-developed style, and a distinct type of diction that is pretty formulaic. But live he has such power with words that you can’t help but fall in love with him. He had a piece about bullying that brought tears to my eyes, and another piece about sexual exploration that got the whole crowd hot-and-bothered. Amazing man.

The second act that surprised me was Weezer. Like anyone who grew up in the 90s, I have a soft spot for “Buddy Holly”, “El Scorcho”, and “Say It Ain’t So”, and The Green Album was great. I read an article in Spin magazine when I was a kid that joked about Rivers Cuomo owning a black binder of mathematical equations for killer pop hooks (a la Dilton from the Archie Comics). Well, everything I heard post-Green Album felt like a half-worked equation. I didn’t get how it fit in with the well-crafted first 3 albums. And I got annoyed that every asshole on frat row was wearing a Weezer shirt and hornrimmed glasses. But I was always really sad at the downturn, and hoped that they’d come around.

Seeing the band perform live, I finally understood at least where the songs came from. Weezer: fantasy nerd-rock. That may seem obvious, but the fantasy element is easy to miss. When you watch Rivers Cuomo strut around on stage, and awkwardly command 20,000 people to dance, you get this vision of him in tighty-whiteys, a shitty Fender strapped to his chest, pretending to be some rock god in front of his bedroom mirror. Suddenly lyrics like “Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts” had context, and were, in fact, hilarious. There’s obviously an element of performance and camp to it, which leads me to question whether Cuomo himself is quite as socially awkward as he acts on stage. Either way, it was really fun to watch, and really fun to have a musical “AHA” moment!

No matter the concert experience, I still am on the fence about recent-Weezer albums. Another theory I have about Weezer’s mediocre last few records is that they were unhappy with their label but had an album quota to fill, and were just trying to push out songs to get out of their contract as soon as possible. The songs were “good enough”, but lyrically half-hearted and not quite as sharp as they could be. In researching this review a bit, I found some evidence of that. They left Geffen Records in December 2009, after the release of Raditude, with a plan to switch to newer methods of album-release. I haven’t listened to Hurley yet, but it’s done well critically, and drawn comparisons to The Blue Album and Pinkerton. If the one lyric I read from “Where’s My Sex” (a song about “sox” where he sings the word “sex” instead), I already think it’s a lot more clever at least. I’ll probably review it in the future.

There were so many bands, and I’ve already gone indepth enough with Weezer and Shane Koyczan. Here are a few bullet-point observations of the other bands that played:

  • Girl Talk: silly ADD dance party for music nerds
  • Metric: Emily Haines was hot as usual, but I miss her robot dancing and brunette hair a la Old World Underground…
  • Black Mountain: crazy-intense, but probably owe a few royalties to the Big Oz.
  • The Zolas: Vancouver scene family band (We Are The City cameo!)
  • Panda Watch: or rather, Said The Whale!
  • Bend Sinister: musical and literal shark attack
  • Donald Glaude: turn the mellow hippies into coked-up meatheads! Thanks!
  • Shad: hip-hop even white girls like me can appreciate
  • John Butler Trio: jam band has fun with drums
  • Metric Unplugged: Emily Haines <3’s Julian Casablancas

Overall, a fun show. There seemed to be a lot more capacity for tickets than there were ticket-holders, which is worrisome. Vancouver doesn’t have a Sasquatch or Bumbershoot, and the city has such a burgeoning music scene that it deserves one. BC music is really producing a great scene despite years of stagnation and fights with the no-fun regulatory boards. Hopefully the festival makes enough money to continue for some time longer.



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