Levitation Vancouver – June 17th-19th 2016

Levitation Vancouver 2018 at the Commodore Ballroom, the Cobalt, and the Rickshaw Theatre.

Reverberation is taking effect. In it’s second year,  Levitation Vancouver has gained new ground as a top-notch curated festival. A collaborative between Timbre Concerts and Texas based company the Reverberation Appreciation Society,  the festival has succeeded in capturing the imaginations, promoting a higher calibre of artistic expression; Levitation Vancouver is not your average festival.

Relocated from the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park, the energy and excitement of the audience was far more palpable in the intimate and alluring Commodore Ballroom. Other  branches of the psychedelically festival such as the Levitation edition in Angers France had their beginnings in similarly sized clubs. The soft, clear stage lights, close stage and central location of the Commodore were definite advantages of the venue change.

Levitation features an enticing spectrum of artists from around the world but also includes local talent. Since last year’s inaugural festival, the psychedelic mindset in Vancouver has taken off, as evident in the ever-improving local talents. Starting off Friday’s  music at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver singer-songwriter Louise Burns has demonstrated a colourful evolution from her indie-rock beginnings. Sharing an infectious smile with her afternoon audience, Louise Burns set a compelling mood for the festival with her tasteful arrangements and compelling stage presence. Up next was White Lung, a crass, punk-inspired Vancouver group with screeching vocals.

There are many flavours of psychedelia; one of the most notable modern incarnation has been championed by the Allah-Lahs, a sleek “record collector” rock group from Los Angeles that excels at writing catchy, casual and comfortable retro-styled ‘60s rock.  The Allah-Lahs cultivated a chill, inviting atmosphere and even played some new material off of their new record, forthcoming this September.

As the venue floor swelled with concert goers arriving just after work, the festival began to really fire up. FIDLAR, a southern California punk group, scream with energy that combines rock & roll, punk rock and metal. It was not long before the exuberant energy transferred to the increasingly incensed crowd. Shattering silence, FIDLAR crushed eardrums and enabled a spirited mosh pit that felt much more in place than the harder edged bands billed at last year’s festival. A highlight of the set, and indeed of the festival, was FILDAR’s closing number. Though the mosh-pits were in full swing, the band instructed the audience to sit down for their final song. the better part of a thousand people complied in seconds. “You’ll know when to stand up,” the crowd were instructed. As FILDAR cranked through their bombastic bullet “Cocaine;” the audience went nuts. Fortunately, this group will be returning to BC for this year’s Otaliath Festival, an intimate, camping festival on the beautiful west coast of Vancouver Island.

Of Montreal, another festival highpoint, played a skillful and dramatic set of danceable, off kilter pop rock. Frontman Kevin Barnes stood centre stage, clad in a large and curled blonde, female wig. An impressive, incomparable and inspired rock and roll group, Of Montreal have not played the north west in the better part of a decade; their inclusion on the bill was a welcomed treat and a feather in the cap of the Levitation organizers.

Up next were Tycho, a mild and atmospheric electronic project. Project front man Scott Hansen led his four-piece outfit through light, drifting soundscapes. Tycho’s stage-show, consisting of Hansen’s colourful, California-esque projections offered immense atmosphere to the gentle music. Tycho could hardly be more different than the energetic, over the top FIDLAR; the festival’s diversity was proof that psychedelic comes in many sizes and colours.

Friday’s evening showcases demonstrated further diversity and grittiness. Showcases at the Cobalt, the Imperial and the Rickshaw Theatre felt very much in tandem with the Levitation brand. Filled with excited festival fans, the smaller clubs were brimming with an energy that easily surpassed that of an average weekend show. Heron Oblivion, performing at the Cobalt, wove delicate and explorative sonic textures that overflowed into searing, volumes instrumental sections. Bandleader Meg Baird breaks  lineup convention by supplying lead vocals as well as pounding drums. Heron Oblivion sounded sleek, focused and driven; one of Levitation’s largest drawing points is the spirited introductions of fans to such talent.

Saturday’s Commodore Ballroom showcase started off with a pair of female rock bands, Cherry Glazerr and the Spanish all-girl band Hinds. Both respectable bands in their outright, each provided sets that, although filled with passion, felt a tad out of place due to their more-conventional nature. Thee Oh Sees, lead by the beaming and bouncy John Dwyer, cranked up the energy that earned the band such accolades at last year’s Levitation Festival in Austin. Drawing in all the energy of skate-board punk aesthetics with healthy doses of humour and colourful guitar tones, Thee Oh Sees boast an elaborate energy rarely matched. As the Commodore Ballroom bounced with excitement, it was clear that the festival had found it’s full swing.

The Growlers, another southern California group, played the venue’s penultimate set with a medium tempo’d set of garage rock topped with the deep, moody vocals of vocalist Brooks Nielsen. As the band clicked, Neilson strutted back and forth across the stage, crooning with his atypical voice.

The final set of the festival included producer Flying Lotus, whose electronic, often experimental compositions have had an immense impact upon artists, including Radiohead in their composition of The King of Limbs.  Sonically capable, the visual projections of Flying Lotus set a standard of what can be accomplished with digital stage shows. Flying Lotus’ many lights and images were a determined assault upon the visual senses.

Saturday Night showcases, which were split between Reverberation Appreciation Society styled psych rock to the progressive and jazz-inspired groups Thundercat  and Shabazz Places at the Imperial Theatre. the true magic of Levitation manifested through in a beyond stellar lineup at the Rickshaw Theatre. Froth, Holy Wave, Boogarins, Morgan Delt and Dead Meadow all performed spirited sets backed by a spectacular light show courtesy of the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light show. Using multiple projectors across three screens, the light show’s exquisite, swirling, colours seemed as if from a wonderful dream. Mad Alchemy has performed at many psychedelic oriented festivals such as Levitation Austin, Vertigofest and Desert Stars but the spacious balcony at the Rickshaw Theatre offered the  the dazzling projections. From Holy Wave’s initial “Do You Feel It?”, to the krautrock-infused rock of Boogarins to the agile, spaced out pop of Morgan Delt, all of the venue’s players were winners.

The crowd persisted to the end of the evening as San Francisco rockers Dead Meadow geared through an hour of extended sonic assaults. Earlier in the year, Dead Meadow played support for Super Fury Animals at the Imperial Theatre; this Rickshaw Theatre easily surpassed that performance due the combination of the band’s  particularly gorgeous, glowing guitar tones and Mad Alchemy’s unsurpassed visuals.

The festival felt successful but not complete. Sunday featured a final after-party performance at the Cobalt Cabaret where a number of performers made a steady mark. The Orange Kyte, a project featuring many members of Vancouver sleek, retro-rock group the Strange Things, supplied an impressive opening set that swelled with vicious organ and alluring atmosphere.

On the following their set, Radiation Flowers, a Saskatoon based psych played with a style somewhere between a classic psychedelic sound and the mammoth, space rock boom of Black Mountain.  Front woman Shelby Gaudet’s dreamy vocals tastefully juxtapose the band’s buzzing organ and formidable rhythm section. Betrayers, a group from Edmonton, provided further talent from the Canadian prairie; psych rock is taking strong root in the north. The final act of the festival included Dead Ghost, now signed to Burger Records, who bashed through a set of good-time, spirited garage rock befitting of the Black Lips. Dead Ghost have done their city credit by connecting the local scene with the larger Californian circuit.

As the Sunday night crowd filtered out of the bar, satisfaction took hold. After four nights of well-curated music, Levitation Vancouver was most definitely a better than average weekend. While the low-exchange rate of the Canadian dollar has hurt the festival industry, Levitation Vancouver has kept artistic sound alive in a city that honestly has no compelling modern music festival. Although the festival’s relocation upset some concert goers, Saturday’s rain made the move a blessing in disguise; likewise, the festival’s ticket prices, while not cheap, is justified through abnormally strong musical curation. This festival is all about the music, which unfortunately, is something increasingly rare. The international focus and diverse billings made Levitation Vancouver a unique, inciting and unforgettable experience.

Now bring back the oil light show!

Full gallery of Levitation Vancouver at The Commodore Ballroom © Jamie Taylor

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