Levitation Vancouver feels more like a state of mind than a festival that you attend. It is a thrilling, exciting, slightly terrifying and mind altering explosion of psych rock , shoe gaze,trip-hop, electronica and metal. Various facets of the human condition are prevalent during this three-day, four night festival that takes place in the downtown core/underbelly of the ghetto in Vancouver. This is Levitation Vancouver’s second birthday; it is a lovechild of Levitation Austin and Timbre Concerts. Despite there being some serious hiccups before the event regarding the day time portion of the festival being moved from the beautiful and open Stanley Park to the confided walls of Commodore Ballroom, the festival was smooth as velvet. It certainly helped that the Commodore is one of the best looking and sounding venues in Western Canada. The lineup this year was exceptional and completely well suited to the nature of the festival. This included: Flying Lotus, oF Montreal, The Growlers, Tycho, Shabazz Palaces, White Lung, Holy F, Suuns and many more authentic, unapologetic and face numbing bands. The following is a list of my personal highlights from this brain-bending weekend.
oF (yes, that spelling is intentional) Montreal played on Friday night in between Tycho and Fidlar at the Commodore Ballroom. The concert took place during the witching hour of somewhere between 8-9 P.M, it’s the end of the day and the beginning of the night and we seldom get our minds blown during this hour. There was something almost unsettlingly exciting about watching the five piece band from Georgia all dressed like stylish Muppets set up their stage. It is clear they come from a completely different universe; the same one the Flaming Lips and Peaches are probably from. Lead singer Kevin Barnes has a stage presence that could make buildings collapse and people faint. The bustling yet respectful audience were transfixed for the entirely of this generous concert. The band put every last speckle of their bizarre and wonderful energy into this performance. This was most notable with keyboard player Jojo Glidewell, who gracefully attacked his instrument with intense dominion that was impossible to ignore. Their set was glamorous yet lo-fi, grandiose yet gentle and aesthetically refined yet messy. It was everything the audience needed to either conclude their day at the festival or boost them into the evening or many more performances.
Holy F closed the stage at the Rickshaw on Friday night. The band is notably understated aesthetically, they all look and act like regular dudes from Nova Scotia and Ontario yet make music that is wildly contentious and innovative. However, they have managed to reach some serious musical peaks such as getting nominated for both a Juno and a Polaris, toured with MIA and were late Lou Reed’s alleged favourite band. They are an electro-acoustic noise rock band, which is refreshing to witness this day in age with the abundance of laptops present at concerts. They make rich sonic soundscapes that visit various genres. They orchestrate powerful and haunting concerts and this one was particularly strong. The combination of the concert-taking place at the Rickshaw, which lends itself so well to complex music along with the stunning visuals, made this impeccable performance quite remarkable.
Steve Ellison aka Flying Lotus is a experimental electronic musician extraordinaire. He is impossibly talented in a highly misunderstood (especially by yours truly) and misrepresented (iPod addicts) genre but he is truly one of the finest in the field. The nephew of Alice Coltrane and life long jazz fan has a unique approach to sound manipulation. His set finalized the last show at the Commodore on Saturday night, which made this already highly anticipated performance even more exhilarating. The man puts on one hell of a show, it’s as if we are his puppets that he is controlling with his insanely fast paced fingers. Puppets that are extremely happy and in constant awe of his demi-god like potency dancing like wild to the soundscapes he creates in front of us.Moreover,his performances are more like magic shows than concerts. This performance was multifaceted and pulled from his early work to latest material; this lent itself generously to both burning fans and newcomers to his music. Additionally, the visuals were wildly beautiful and suited intuitively to the tone of his set. He had the audience essentially petting the ground quietly while taking deep breaths (to songs such as Do the Astral Plane) to manically jumping up and down in a hip shaking frenzy (such as when he dropped Busta Rhyme’s Gimme Some More). It was everything we expect from Flying Lotus and somehow even more…
Shabazz Palaces are one of the most interesting bands in modern hip-hop. The Seattle based duo consists of Ishmael Butler aka Butterfly from Digable Planets (Cool like Dat) and Tendai “Baba” Maraire. They played at the Imperial late Saturday night before Thundercat and after Charlotte Day Wilson. Their music is the epitome of jazz infused hip hop that we miss from the 90’s yet it has a contemporary power that encapsulates the evolution of the genre. Butler’s delivery and lyrical content are mesmerizing and meaningful, it’s somewhere between spoken word and gangster rap. Maraire played classic West African instruments and orchestrated intuitive electronic beats directly beside him. The two are perfectly suited, always pushing new boundaries and are the first hip-hop band to sign with Sub Pop records. Their performance was clearly and magnificently improvisational. At certain points both members seemed possessed by some grand and ancient spirit and who am I so say they weren’t?