I have to admit, going into Levitation Festival, I was worried.
Due to extreme weather, the Austin, Texas version of the festival was cancelled just days before. Less than a week before the Vancouver event was set to begin, the organizers announced a move from the outdoor venue of the Malkin Bowl in gorgeous Stanley Park to the dark and moody —albeit legendary — Commodore Ballroom.
There was instant backlash: the Malkin Bowl programming was intended to be all-ages, something no longer possible with the move in venues. And with prices at $85/day for the formerly-outdoor-now-indoor staple shows, the event was suddenly beginning to feel . . . expensive, and not what people bargained for.
When one thinks of summer festivals, they typically think of outdoor fields jam-packed with people, amazing vendors, tasty food and, of course, the bands. Levitation tried to encompass this by including Malkin Bowl as a daytime venue, but that fell through. That being said, the organizers managed to pull it together, and with some schedule changes to accommodate the move to the Commodore, the event appeared to go off without a hitch.
I was lucky enough to cover day 1 of the event at the Commodore Ballroom and, after an eventful trek into Vancouver, including getting locked out of the apartment I was staying at and losing my transit daypass, I eventually made it to the Commodore.
The afternoon (…night?) started out with back-to-back female-fronted Vancouver-based bands. It was refreshing for a festival typically based around heavier bands to include two female-dominated bands opening up the night amongst an overall lineup dominated by a sea of men.
First to hit the stage was Louise Burns, bringing her upbeat yet dark sounds to the small crowd that had begun to gather. She was quickly followed by punk quartet White Lung, fronted by Mish Barber-Way. Touring off their brand new album, Paradise, there was no shortage of energy from the band or the crowd.
Allah-Las were up next, bringing things down a notch. The band’s roots are firmly planted in garage rock territory, with obvious 1960s pop sensibilities and surf rock influences in both their sound and appearance. The crowd mellowed out at this point. Though still packed, many ducked out before the 8pm in-and-out curfew to grab food elsewhere.
The highlight of the night, hands down, was Fidlar. A self-destructive garage punk band hailing from Los Angeles, the Commodore was absolutely quaking at this point, boasting the largest crowd of the night. Close to the the 1,000 person cap, the floor was shaking, and VERY sticky from the beer flying around the room. Fidlar exuded energy, jumping and headbanging for the entire duration of their all-too-short set.
The high point of the night was frontman Zac Carper managing to convince the entire crowd to get down on the floor during a quiet moment before exploding in an absolute frenzy during a particularly upbeat song. Bassist Brandon Schwartzel could be seen sidestage, climbing on the speakers and jumping back down. These guys are not to be missed, and will be headlining Otalith Festival in Tofino – we strongly encourage you to go!
Bringing the weirdness of the night to a slightly smaller crowd was experimental pop/glam rockers Of Montreal – who, shockingly, do not hail from Montreal . . . but Athens, Georgia. Frontman Kevin Barnes was decked out in a psychedelic suit jacket, white pants and massive wig, complete with dramatic makeup. His bandmates were not far behind, with other outfits including an all-white ensemble that looked like it could have been hospital scrubs, a maroon sweater with fur trim, a checkered suit and a more muted pinstripe suit. They did not disappoint, with a sound that lived up to their outfits.
Headlining the evening was Tycho, who win for the best visuals of the night. Mostly backlit, the group lead by Scott Hansen relied on a massive video screen in the background for projections matching up to the music. Bringing their more downtempo ambient electronic music to the Commodore, the night couldn’t have ended better.
Despite some of the question marks initially surrounding the festival in the days leading up, I have to say it turned out swimmingly. I am unsure that the crowd would have been as energetic at an outdoor festival; there is something to be said about being packed into a crammed room with other music lovers there to enjoy music, especially with top-notch visuals and sound from a venue such as the Commodore Ballroom.
The move there could very well have been the best decision the festival made (with the exception of the underage fans who were no longer able to attend). I’m looking forward to next year’s installment, and being able to cover more of the events — there were other night shows held at the Rickshaw, the Cobalt, and the Imperial.
This is the first year Rocktographers has covered the event (and only the second year of the festival!), but it definitely won’t be our last. See you next year, Levitation!