I was apprehensive to say the least. After attending Levitation last year I had high hopes of the whimsical outdoors, the silk tents, and the hot sun. So when I heard that the festival would be at the Commodore Ballroom because of ‘unforeseen circumstances’ and lousy weekend weather I was disappointed.
I had so many questions: Where would the vendors and the food trucks be from last year? Would it feel like a festival? I assumed many people had paid to see an outdoor show, would they still be willing to pay high prices for a glorified concert? I wondered how many underage people had paid to attend and now couldn’t enjoy the music.
As I arrived, incredibly late, I pushed myself to go faster by trying to keep up with the 6’5” man in short shorts and white gym socks on the street outside. I caught the eye of some of the recent high school students who had graduated inside the Orpheum and now awkwardly mingled right beside the psych festival. They were a stark contrast to the mods down the road smoking, and doing what mods do best: scowling and looking cooler than you.
Stuck in line, I missed Louise Burns in her entirety, climbing the stairs in the middle of White Lung’s set. Their music was heavy and thumped heaving breaths of drums and bass — it was incredibly captivating. A person threw a full can of beer and it hit lead singer Mish Barber-Way square in the breast which she jokingly passed off as another “Harper Gate”. It was gratifying to see a local band play on the main stage, even if I think they fared better than they would have, had they been playing the Malkin Bowl.
I had high hopes for the next band, even if it was from their vintage clothing and amps alone. I assumed they were one of those bands trying to be a living period piece. The Allah–Las’ spacy surf-rock made the crowd shimmy and shake. Their set came with its own set of problems — a broken snare here, a broken amp there — but they tried to sweep up the pieces with some nice filler ‘60s elevator music. Interestingly the vocals were shared between guitarists Pedrum Siadatian and Miles Michaud. Michaud’s vocals were strong, clear and perfect for poppy surf, while Siadatian’s vocals were soft and hazy in contrast. They were oddly complementary and layered, sounding like an effected single voice.
I was lulled into a sweet daze by the Allah-Las and after a break between sets, I wasn’t ready for FIDLAR. Startled by the granular garage music being pumped into my ears, I was momentarily unable to cope with their high energy. By midway through the set, the band knew they had the crowd in the palm of their hands, so Zach Carper used his crazy mind control powers to get everyone in the venue to sit down by simply asking: “Do you want to get weird?” Luckily the magic worked, and after swearing at vintage amp tubes exploding, we all knew knew exactly when to jump up together. Their songs were messy, but not in a bad way.
Then came the band I was waiting for, the band I pushed my way to the front for: Of Montreal. They were like a dreamscape of mint pinstripes, faux fur, and sequins. Close enough to touch Kevin Barnes’ sparkly eyelids and pull off his Envy Adams-esque wig, I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the disco jaunt through the band’s classics. One of my favourite things about their music is how naïve the instrumentation feels but omniscient their lyrics are. They aren’t afraid to talk about anything, or take chances with writing because of the sheer amount of music they have released. This is a band that is hard to articulate, and only really understood fully when seen live.
It was almost the end of the night and I wanted to go outside and breathe some acrid city air, but I was glad I stayed for Tycho. They were simple, modern, and incredibly complete, clearing my head and letting me focus on closing my eyes and moving. We all became meditative. I had never really connected to ambient music played live before but I couldn’t break away from its force. Pure relaxation. Tycho’s incredible visuals — seascapes, pilgrims, and sunsets — faded to black after every song, signaling the end and letting us breath.
Tycho were the right band to close the night. It was sad that many left after Of Montreal, but understandable because most of the other venues opened at nine. Although it wasn’t the Levitation that I had hoped for, it was still magical. I hope that next year the organizers consider trying to find another outdoor space because the Commodore definitely did not have that pure and wistful festival feel of last year.