Fall is the Perfect Time for Fuzzy Sweaters

Halifax Pop Explosion, part 2

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I have to admit, I was a little leery of this five-days-of-festivaling when first presented with the option. First, I hate late bar shows anyway. Second, five nights of cab fare to Dartmouth? Suck. It. Third, maybe I’m getting too old for this because, you know, I have to work the next day and the music is so loud and the kids all dress funny these days.

But somehow this sweet, sweet pop festival has worked its magic on me again and I’m going for it—five days and one very long day. I’m committed to it.

I wonder if festival programmers were thinking along these lines when they planned the show at St. Matthew’s on Tuesday night, the kickoff for the whole week. I’m going to give them credit and assume that’s what they were doing. Kicking off the festival with this show was like easing into a warm bath or pulling on your favourite fall sweater. Cozy and comforting.

Jon Rae started off the evening around 8pm. Just Jon Rae and a guitar: no River, no choir, though the choir would appear later to help him close the show. New Music Canada lists “gospel, hardcore” as the appropriate subgenres for his music. Yeah, I’ll buy that. Wish my Gramma’s church played music like this; I’d probably make it a point to be in the congregation every time I was in town.

The Julie Doiron Song and Comedy Show was up next. For real, when is Julie going to release an album of just stand-up material? My pew companion noted that would make a great recording: one song followed by an hour of Julie’s between-song banter and then one more song. Julie played a number of requests, including “Sweeter” from the Juno-award winning collaboration she did with the Wooden Stars a few years back, and two tracks from Shotgun & Jaybird’s just-released second album.

Great Lake Swimmers followed. I heartily declare Tony Dekker to be this year’s Chad VanGaalen, who basically filled all of my Chris Thompson/Elliot Smith needs at last year’s Pop Explosion. Tony’s voice and guitar (and sometimes harmonica) filled the cavernous space with heartache. At times, he delivered his delicate vocals through clenched teeth—what a beautiful thing to watch an artist get so physically involved with his words. Tony has an endearingly awkward stage presence; rare were the moments when he dared to glance at his audience and you had to look quick to catch him smile. (But he did smile, at least once!) I hope he’ll return soon.

Oh, and extra bonus points for him knowing and caring that our much-beloved Khyber Club is no longer operating.

Jon Rae returned with his impromptu Choir, which included among its notable members Laura Peek, Dave Ewenson, Stephen Kelly, Dawn Sloane, Maureen MacDonald, Ben Pearlman, Stephanie D’Entremont, Matt MacDonald and more.

Early in the set the sound system fell apart but no matter. You don’t need electric amplification in a space like St. Matthew’s Church. Hallelujah, Jon Rae.

From what is probably the most sacred space to host Pop Explosion events to a much more secular setting, then: Stage Nine. The Superfantastics hit the stage shortly after 11pm with a set of minimalist (one guitar + drums + vocals) catchy pop tunes. The bar filled up fairly quickly once the music got underway. By the time Shotgun & Jaybird hit the stage at midnight, it was time for me to hit Metro Transit. I know they’ll be back and I hope and pray Mike O’Neill brings The Beginners to a local stage again soon. It was probably a kick-ass show and I already know I am stupid for missing it.

Tomorrow: Hump Day at the McInnis Room, starring Dog Day, Christine Fellows and The Weakerthans.

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