Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images The sad news came across late Wednesday afternoon…
- Posted on Jul 27th 2010 6:30PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Coming up on almost three decades in existence, Guelph's annual Hillside Festival's always eclectic lineup has made it a coveted spot on the summer touring circuit to the point where both veteran bands and emerging acts alike clamour for a spot in the lineup.
With their edgy atmospheric sound, rising Montreal (by way of Calgary) quartet Braids aren't exactly the kind of act one associates with a folk-tinged summer festival like Hillside, but it's testament to the festival's open-minded programming that such developing, experimental acts are given the same opportunity as any big-name performer.
Braids were one of two acts being presented by Pop Montreal at the festival (the other being Braids' tourmates Shapes & Sizes) -- clearly thrilled to be making their Hillside debut, the four-piece delivered a strong set heavy on layered instrumentation and a generous helping of reverb and feedback.
If the sizable crowd on hand in the Lake Stage tent was fazed by the group's decidedly left-field approach to electronic pop, they didn't show it, engrossed in the moody, swirling haze of Braids' distinctive sound.
Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston's vocals momentarily went unheard as the band opened with the glimmering 'Lemonade,' but her strident voice soon rang out as the microphone issue was quickly resolved. Though all four members provided high, sweet harmonies throughout the set (including some fairly impressive falsetto action from drummer Austin Tufts and bassist Taylor Smith), Standell-Preston's unique voice served as the focus. Following a weekend of folk-y songstresses, her fresh vocal approach, which eschews the traditional feminine mould (and evokes other forceful singers like Bjork), was a welcome change.
The group cultivated a dreamy, otherworldly vibe perfect for a sun-soaked Sunday afternoon at Hillside, with Katie Lee's keyboard melodies burbling underneath the rhythm section's pulsating, almost post-punk beat on set standouts 'Peach Wedding' and 'Native Speaker' (the title track from their forthcoming album, due in the fall).
Longtime friends, the quartet clearly possess a keen chemistry that allows them to play effortlessly off each other, with members easily switching instruments even over the course of a song (Smith often tucking his bass behind his back to bash along on a single snare drum). Given their complex sound, which evokes a sort of modern spin on the ambient electronics of the 4AD era, the band's intense focus onstage isn't surprising, though the lack of any sort of dynamic stage presence or interaction with the audience may simply be due to the fact they're still finding their feet in a live setting.
Making the most of their 40-minute set, the band moved seamlessly through their six-song performance, only pausing to thank the crowd and express their enthusiasm for Hillside at the end, with Standelle-Preston calling for applause for the festival "because it is such a wonderland."
At large summer festivals packed with familiar veteran headliners, it can be difficult for lesser-known bands to stand out. But by delivering a performance unlike anything else heard at this year's Hillside, Braids proved that not only could they hold their own alongside the bigger names, but revealed themselves as a promising act to watch.