Thursday Night – Caity Brawn 

Soft folk songs, sweet harmonies and a mesmerized audience—all three unanimously captured by Dark for Dark, Marine Dreams, and The Weather Station at Stereophonic’s Thursday show.

First up was Dark for Dark, a seemingly unfit name for a band who boasts thoughtful folk music and even sweeter voices to match. By then end of the first song the band had fostered a serene atmosphere. Their music induced a slow sway among the crowd, the kind that only begins amid soft love songs sung in three-part vocal harmony. The band’s sleepy sounds were balanced with some more upbeat tunes which kept the chatty crowd engaged. It is admirable when a band can evoke a strong message or emotion in their music without going overboard on instrumentation or vocals; Dark for Dark achieved this with their light set marked by solid percussion and impeccable harmonies.

Marine Dreams took the stage next, playing a solo acoustic set. This musician’s taut hold on his audience of rowdy showgoers was impressive. Individuals entered the door speaking loudly to each other, with voices fading as they moved closer to the stage. Like Dark for Dark, there was something about the simplicity of the instrumentation that garnered the attention of the audience. Ian Kehoe played with the intonation of someone serenading their lover, and the set felt a bit like being cozily seated around a campfire while an acoustic guitar was passed around.

Many shows at Thunder & Lightning are notorious for poor audio mixing, but Marine Dreams’s mix was great, likely because the set only comprised vocals and a guitar. Regardless, the lyrics were easily decipherable, and any vocal imperfections were forgivable as the narrative nature of the songs was engaging.

Lastly, The Weather Station was up. First impressions made by this band elicited feelings recollected from a warm spring day in Sackville. Appropriately enough, lead singer Tamara Lindeman even prefaced one of her songs by saying, “This is a song about driving in New Brunswick.”

The band’s sound was full and luscious, with heavy instrumentation—a contrast to the previous two acts. The sound and musicianship were impeccable, as Lindeman has a powerful and full voice which filled the room. Her voice is the kind that sounds familiar, making every phrase feel satisfying and recognizable. However, most of the set sounded very similar, as if the same songs were being played over and over with varying changes in tempo. Again, the mix was great, which was an unexpected treat for the venue.

Delivering a solid performance and creating a memorable evening is a feat in itself; controlling a room full of rowdy, beer-filled concertgoers on festival day number one is a whole other story. All three bands held their own and lived up to this accomplishment, and are certainly worth the time to check out if you couldn’t make it down.

Stereophonic_0027 Allison Grogan EDITED

Friday Night – Kael MacQuarrie

On Friday night, Sackville’s Legion opened its bingo hall for a set of gunky punk and chunky riffs. The spacious venue did not prevent the audience from packing into a sweaty horde around the bands as they smashed their way through sets that wove through a landscape of modern garage punk at its finest.

The show started with a set from Sparkle Water, a Halifax-based garage rock three-piece comprising members of Stereophonic veterans Coach Longlegs. Angular guitar work coated the call-and-response vocals, creating an unintelligible mess fostered by the poor sound quality of the set. The drumming often fell out of sync with the other players as the guitarist sang facing away from the mic, like a child put in time-out. From what was audible under the mess of sound, it seemed like some interesting melodies could be hiding somewhere, but the lack of clarity in the sound made it hard to sift through the noise and pull out anything worthwhile. One of the keys to crafting viable and interesting garage rock is the ability to play music that sounds sloppy but is secretly tight. While Sparkle Water definitely had the sloppy aspect of the sound down, they lacked the tightness required to craft sustainable garage jams.

Following Sparkle Water, Beef Boys played a set of surf-tinged punk. The sound issues that plagued the openers were no longer present, granting Beef Boys the tone they needed to mash through their set. Prefacing their performance with an announcement that “Surf may be dead, but suffering isn’t,” the band rode through a number of finger-blistering jams. Noisy breakdowns led into wah-heavy solos, as the band smashed their way through track after track of thrashing noise. The band’s sound was reminiscent of a lot of the garage rock coming out of the post-Jay Reatard California garage rock scene, with grimy riffs and quick solos assuring the set held the audience’s interest. In the short breaks between songs, Beef Boys interspersed their set with anecdotes and banter, and while the band was funny, their music was no joke.

Towanda were up next, featuring former Sackville residents Rosie Gripton, Claire Paquet and Nic Wilson. The trio combined into one loud beast, shredding through a set chugging crotch punk covered in a healthy layer of fuzz. Gripton howled as she blasted chunky riffs out of her guitar, while Wilson and Paquet’s rhythm section held the line as they slogged through their set. The vocals combined with the heaviness of the instrumentation led to an intensity in Towanda’s set that was hard to match.

Finally, Kappa Chow took the floor, performing a set of the gunk punk that led to the band becoming one of Sackville’s favorites over the past couple of years. Joe Chamandy and Ilse Kramer opened with a short run-through of a group of sloppy garage tracks that would find a nice home on any Back from the Grave compilation. Afterward, the pair brought out the rest of the band to play through some older songs; distortion filled psych-garage jams filled the bingo hall as the crowd exploded into a wall of sweat-stained moshing. Chris Meany’s saxophone cut through the cacophony like a smooth dagger, while Scott Brown’s bass filled out Chamandy’s sound and allowed the guitarist to breathe.

By the time the band played their pseudo-theme song, “Punk as Fuck,” they had successfully reminded the crowd what a shame it is that these guys no longer play around here all the time. The trash can the band appropriated as a makeshift percussion instrument drove the point home; Kappa Chow makes trash music for trash people, in the best possible way.

Monophomic – Cameron McIntyre

Monophonic_Allison O'Reilly EDITED

Like the ghost of music festivals past, Monophonic reached back through time to bring two defunct Sackville bands back from the grave. The single-show offshoot of Stereophonic, which has no connection to the main festival other than its timing and its name, reunited The Mouthbreathers and Asian Dad Black Baby to turn a little living room out by the train station into a tornado of sweating bodies and shifting floorboards. Even though this instalment featured less free weed and the Cancer Bats didn’t make an appearance, the quality of this show still lived up to the thoroughly DIY spirit of the 2013 original iteration, which is still regarded as one of the greatest Sackville shows in recent history.

With bursting vocal chords over noise-rock jams, Asian Dad Black Baby were so loud they shook the house and left ears ringing for days. Their set swayed between quick, dirty guitar riffs and lumbering breakdowns so heavy they commanded the mosh pit to move in unison.

The Mouthbreathers brought back their infamous punk-rock anthems that used to be played in town almost once a month. Nobody had forgotten the lyrics, and Lucy Niles’s vocals were screamed back at her by a full room of people for every song. This back-and-forth led to the night ending with an incredibly liberating feeling: yelling “I’m not afraid” as loud as possible with 40 other people on a floor that feels like it’s about to fall through.

Saturday Night -Daniel Marcotte

Held above the Sackville Curling Club, Stereophonic’s Saturday-night show brought together group of haggard yet determined festival-goers for a final lineup of excellent acts.

Peterborough-based rockers Faux Cults kicked off the evening, snapping the crowd out of their hangovers with a hard-hitting set. Faux Cults’ style is straight-up surf punk, but they’re anything but generic. As the mispronounced “Foucault” reference in their name suggests, the band is lighthearted and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. The four-piece’s intensity and energetic stage presence made for a lively and danceable opening performance—a welcome departure from the “spacey indie” groups that sometimes introduce an otherwise upbeat evening.

Up next was Cupcake Ductape, a two-piece from Guelph whose eccentricities are exceeded only by their musical talent. Fronted by bassist Alanna Gurr with Steph Yates on drums, these self-identified “sparkle punk heroes” delivered a set that somehow invoked both the raw, thrashy simplicity of 1980s and 1990s punk rock with the laid-back, fuzzier sounds of their alt-rock contemporaries.

Much more easygoing than their predecessor, Cupcake Ductape compensated for their small size with a series of short but memorable songs; the vocal harmonies on “Champagne Birthday,” for example, were beautifully off-kilter, lingering in my brain long into the intermission. Their persistent repetition of “she sells seashells by the seashore” and the titular tongue-twister in “Unique New York” should have been irritating, but came off as strangely entrancing, especially when coupled with the steady ebb and flow of their drum-and-bass rhythms. They might not look like much, but Cupcake Ductape gets inside your head, not unlike the taunting, childlike wordplay from which they derive much inspiration.

During stage setup for the next act, someone fetched an ironing board to serve as a keyboard stand, and it was immediately clear the night could only improve. Jonny and the Cowabungas, an enigmatic surf-punk group from St. John’s, N.L., catapulted the audience into hysterics with their unique brand of instrumental punk rock tinged with a synth overlay and pseudo-psychedelic impulses.

With music this good, it’s easy to forget that the majority of their songs don’t even have vocals. Driven by a strong rhythm foundation and peppered with ethereal, reverb-heavy solos, the band performed a complementary echo of Faux Cult’s opening set in a testament to both the band’s music talent and the curatorial integrity of Stereophonic’s devoted organizers.

After another brief beer-and-cigarette break, Sackville’s own Partner carried the night to a close. The band kicked off their set with “Hot Knives,” quipping that “You might know this one from the internet,” a reference to their recent spike of internet fame and the song’s newly recorded bubble-bath music video. Partner’s persistent punk rhythms fueled a modest moshpit with “The Ellen Page” and other crowd favourites, some of which – as frontwomen Josée Caron and Lucy Niles noted – were surprisingly not only about “weed and lesbians.”

Punchy and catchy as ever, their set was the perfect way to end the festival—let’s just hope Partner doesn’t forget about us in coming years as they inevitably continue their steady rise to indie stardom.

Stereophonic_0320 Allison Grogan EDITED

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