Print Edition: September 12, 2012
“What is a ‘forest song’ anyway?”
“Well, I suppose it’s a song played in a forest.”
“Well yeah, except it makes the name kind of redundant. Ask me ‘Where the Forest Songs Are’… Answer? The forest.”
Andrew Koole, Jordan Klassen’s new keys man was, like most people we spoke to, stumped when it came to unravelling the mysterious meaning behind the name of Saturday’s indie music festival at Chilliwack’s Island 22 regional park.
Set against a sylvan background in a dusty gravel parking lot overlooking the mighty Fraser River, the second annual Where the Forest Songs Are gathering brought together some of the Valley’s best folk, dance and electronic acts to celebrate what might have been the last truly hot day of summer 2012. Attendance was modest, but the 100 or so concert goers present at the event’s peak made up for the occasionally spotty crowd in sheer enthusiasm. Their excitement was likely boosted by the range of pleasant distractions including face painting, 50/50 draws, and a crafts table, not to mention the tremendous samosa and gourmet grilled cheese tents. Melted’s $5 “Viva Elvis” sandwich—an unholy concoction of Monterrey Jack, bacon, peanut butter and banana—fortified these reporters’ hungry stomachs extremely well.
The Harpoonist summed up the atmosphere best when he likened it to “a barbeque at a friend’s house. With a great sound system.”
After much wrangling with a shoddy Bing map that suggested opposite directions at nearly every turn, we arrived at Island 22 just after the start of Jordan Klassen’s set. The folk-pop troubadour was accompanied by a quartet of backing musicians that helped flesh out his grand-scale song writing with piano, bass, vocals, drums and some beautifully moving violin work by Indiana Avent. Klassen and company powered through a surprisingly varied set from the stompy opening number to reflective acoustic songs reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, ukelele-fueled trad-pop, and the soaring “You Are the Branches,” which he used to close his well-received set. Klassen’s voice was at its best on softer fare when he could unleash his signature falsetto, but also fared respectfully when pushed just beyond his usual range. The band’s recent week-long boot camp as part of the Peak Performance Project top 20 showed in their tight musicianship and easy management of what could have been a set-killing power outage that claimed half the stage’s equipment for seven minutes near the middle of the band’s performance. You can catch Klassen’s showcase set at The Red Room on Richards this Thursday at eight sharp along with three other Peak Performance Project finalists.
Standing next to his brother Levi and a couple of Christmas penguins covered in lights, Abbotsford’s sandal-wearing singer/songwriter Adam Klassen addressed social issues and spun his yarn of newfound responsibilities through mostly original folk tunes. But because these concepts weren’t fully developed, these gestures seemed unnatural and artless. Two songs in particular piqued the crowd’s waning interest, a superb and unexpected cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young” and a song inspired by his two children, “Younger Lives,” which dealt with growing up and the cost of dreams. Somewhat overrun by members of Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer warming up their vocals on the nearby mainstage during his set, Klassen’s coffee house vibe didn’t hold up well against the cold exposure of Chilliwack’s Island 22 Park.
The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer
Taking to the main stage immediately following a hushed acoustic set from Adam Klassen, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer (HAM) quickly brought much of the crowd back to its feet with their barn burning two-man blues act. Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers are consummate performers, supplying a surprisingly full-sounding set with a single telecaster, coarse vocals, distorted harmonica and all manner of pedal-based percussion that has earned them a place alongside Klassen in this year’s Peak Performance Project. Yet despite their unorthodox set-up and gritty Black Keys-inspired sound, the duo ultimately stacked up to a technically proficient bar band that aped classic blues acts rather than crafting anything that could truly be called their own. HAM’s lyric “can’t judge a book by looking at its cover” certainly would apply here. Their strict adherence to clichéd blues riffs and lyrics (nearly every song was rife with “mama”s or “hoochie coochie” men) limited their appeal, especially to a crowd mostly made up of indie kids. Rather than explore the depths of the genre in a satisfying or novel way, HAM’s complacent by-the-numbers song writing made them seem out of place at Saturday’s festival.
Sitting in a specially prepared living room set that included a forest green sofa, side table and reading lamp, Ian Schram’s acoustic set combined dextrous guitar playing, dark melodicism and a powerful, almost classical baritone that, at its best, evoked the late sixties solo material of Scott Walker. Barring a few flat notes, Schram’s set was impressive and inspired rapt attention from much of the crowd. Schram’s guitar work was of an intricacy that suggested middle school summers spent learning metal riffs in his parents’ basement now tempered by the sensitivity to pen, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” based on the Robert Frost poem of the same name. A “forest song” if I’ve ever heard one.
Young Liars is a five-piece indie/dance band fronted by Jordan Raine that takes after Two Door Cinema Club, making dance-friendly tunes that overflow with liveliness. The Vancouver-based band plays songs that can function either as low-volume backdrops or pumped-up danceable beats. There was very little development or alteration in their sound from song to song in Saturday’s set, but Young Liars do what they do incredibly well. Combining bubbly disco bass lines, programmed synth loops and lightweight pop vocals, Young Liars briefly transformed the festival into an indie nightclub. Their two new tracks, off a forthcoming full-length, were well-received by fans and showcased an ambitious complexity. The band’s energy faltered slightly towards the conclusion of their set, likely due to technical problems with one of their guitar amps and compounded by a weaker vocal performance from Raine, but still managed to make a distinct impression.
The Parish of Little Clifton
By the time Young Liars closed the penultimate main stage set of the night, time was running dangerously close to the park’s 10 pm curfew. The Parish of Little Clifton, aka Simon Bridgefoot, played a lush, abridged set before Teen Daze took the stage. Nevertheless, Bridgefoot, who pulled double duty on Saturday as drummer in Jordan Klassen’s band, made a strong impression with an upbeat DJ set that kept the crowd dancing throughout. Bridgefoot’s tremendous ear for dramatic tension and release made for a dynamic performance. Near the end of his time on stage, the unassuming musician asked the crowd, “Do you like music? Do you like websites?” With a response in the affirmative to both queries, he directed the crowd to his bandcamp page where new fans can find an abundance of electronic material produced since his first release in May 2011.
Concluding the 2012 edition of Where the Forests Are, Teen Daze took the crowd on a reverb-heavy and pleasantly aimless musical journey, and all at a danceable clip. Sporting a CBC Radio 3 t-shirt, the hometown DJ interwove light beats, smooth rhythms and soulful up-tempo samples with expert knob-turning and coordinated head-bopping, sending the crowd into a good-time frenzy. Even the more passive audience members had their hips moving to the infectious track “Shine On You Crazy White Cap.” His short set ended in a wonderfully surreal atmosphere, as Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting “Twin Peaks Theme” glided alongside the last puffs of fog from the smoke machine into the towering Douglas-firs beyond the outskirts of the stage.