Joe’s Apartment is like the Jersey Shore of the Granville Strip: fake, brainless, and dumbed for the masses. I knew what I was in for as soon as I saw the red carpet and velvet rope barring the entrance, but the chance to see local shoegaze, post-rock and prog on a single bill was enough to get me past the doors. Just make sure you have equally good reason if you ever venture inside.
For a club on the Granville, the lineup for their Summer Solstice Festival was pleasantly alternative. Swansona opened promptly at 8:30 p.m. with a beautiful set of crescendo rock. Icicle-like, tremolo-picked leads and massive waves of echoing power chords made up the bulk of Swansona’s set, ebbing in and out of spurious climaxes. The group was obviously weaned on a steady diet of Explosions In The Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mono, and they play well within the post-rock genre. For a band with more effects pedals than teeth, the quartet never sounded muddy or overpowering — impressive dynamics considering how much noise was going on in their set. Even if Swansona aren’t breaking new ground, their wall-of-guitar energy and epic 15-minute sonatas are a welcome addition to Vancouver’s instrumental scene.
Violet Age provided the pleasant surprise of the evening. Described as “the poppier side of shoegaze,” their performance dripped with ‘90s nostalgia with a lush, reverb-backed nod to My Bloody Valentine or the dronier side of Yo La Tengo. Jason Wong, guitarist and singer, has a completely unobtrusive, dreamy way of inserting mellow lyrics into each track that float on top of beautiful, if sometimes cacophonous, instrumental progressions. Even when the four-piece clicked on all the overdrive, their music never lost its peaceful sense of pace and flow.
The Alaska, a prog-rock band from Abbotsford, had a lot of good hype behind them, but despite their obvious talent the performance felt forced. Sunny Banipal (vocals, guitar) seemed insincere as a frontman, whose singing only got in the way of the rest of the band. Songs trended towards The Mars Volta with too many palm-muted breakdowns and axes-to-the-sky dad-rock riffs. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with The Alaska’s live act, except a disconnect between them and the bands like Tool that they sometimes tried to emulate. A little too much bro-rock adrenaline had me edging towards the door by the end of their set.