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Wintersleep play full house despite weather

Wintersleep hail from Nova Scotia and are known for weaving guitar, keyboards and vocals into intense live jam sessions.
Wintersleep hail from Nova Scotia and are known for weaving guitar, keyboards and vocals into intense live jam sessions.
Drummer Loel Campbell, who also drums for Holy Fuck, stole the show at Wintersleep’s Grad Club performance on Friday.
Drummer Loel Campbell, who also drums for Holy Fuck, stole the show at Wintersleep’s Grad Club performance on Friday.

In a gradual sonic buildup that creates a wall of sound, filling your ears with distortion, pedals and accented drums that sustain the tight, locked moments of intensity where everyone and everything is in sync, the band jams its way out to a finish. The band is Wintersleep, and that’s what they did, and do best, at the completely sold-out show at the Grad Club on Friday night.

The show was a long-anticipated one; tickets were sold out by mid-January and many people were seen at the Grad Club on Friday asking whether there were any left at the door. Grad Club manager Virginia Clark had to turn them away, taking their phone numbers down and promising to call if anything came up.

To the crowd eagerly awaiting the Nova Scotian five-piece, opening act Flash Lightnin’ had large shoes to fill, but they did it reasonably well. Very much resembling the quintessential classic rock and blues outfit, their hour-long set was filled with cranked-up distortion, wailing guitar solos and vocals. The band’s tight groove, as well as guitarist Darren Glover’s technical skill on his guitar, saved the night from becoming a very pale carbon copy of another Zeppelin wannabe group. Glover kept the energy going on stage by thrusting his guitar up in the air, jumping up and down and onto the audience members, and generally keeping an unpredictable stage presence that sometimes made you worry if he was going to make it through. Alongside their blues-influenced rock, what stood out the most was their cover of Beck’s “Black Tambourine,” which packed on a loud punch.

Playing an hour-and-a-half set mostly from their most recent album Welcome to the Night Sky, Wintersleep began with a cryptic promise from Paul Murphy, vocalist and guitarist.

“We’re gonna fly by the seat of our pants.”

If he meant there would be many instrumental interludes, then he was certainly right. Thanking the audience for coming out despite the snowy weather conditions, the band grabbed the opportunity to play such old favourites as “Snowstorm” and “Orca” to the wildly receptive crowd, while also sneaking in unknown additions such as “How You Lie.” Each song began slowly and quietly, gradually built up to moments of sustained intensity full of slow wah-wahing of the pedals, guitars and keyboard and ended in punchy notes or a gradual fade.

The best part of the concert was not only hearing the intensity of their sound, but also visually absorbing their onstage energy, as the members turned towards each other during one of those locked-down jam moments, banging heads in unison. The most expressive and maybe the most entertaining was drummer Loel Campbell, whose facial expressions resembled orgasmic pleasure throughout his explosive and high-powered drumming.

Jon Samuel, the newest addition to the band with his backup vocals and keyboard, added a nice layer of sound with a touch of sad and melancholy with minor, sustained notes. At times it was clear he was new to the band as he was left underneath the stage—his keyboard couldn’t fit on The Grad Club’s tiny platform—through some of their old repertoire, such as “Danse Macabre” during the encore. Once, as Tim D’Eon took over the keyboard during “Migration”, Samuel held his guitar to play a few chords over the song, but never really joined the rest of the band in their groove.

The band suffered from some technical difficulties near the end, as D’Eon got no sound out of his keyboard at the start of “Migration” and had to stop his band with wild flailing hands to start them over again.

“We’re just gonna redo the whole set,” Murphy joked as they took a moment to reorganize themselves. With the damage control set in motion, I couldn’t help but think they could’ve taken that opportunity to break out into a more spontaneous interlude, which would have added colour to their well-organized but very contained performance.

Wintersleep has evolved from its acoustic, folksy beginnings where delay pedals and distortions were foreign territory, but there was no evidence of such quiet beginnings on Friday night. While I was blown away by the band’s mastery and chemistry, their monochrome style of a song building up from an acoustic beginning to a climax of what can only be defined as an “intense jam” that has everyone going at full volume does get repetitive song after song. Their albums tell me Wintersleep can be a band of variety of sounds—I wish I could have witnessed the diversity live.

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