Sunday, July 18, 2010

Wolf Parade at Beachland

Call it fact, call it fiction, but there's a story behind the title of Wolf Parade's debut album Apologies to the Queen Mary.

The band supposedly trashed their room at the Queen Mary hotel so bad that they felt obliged to publicly apologize in the form of a record.

This story might seem hard to believe if you know anything about Wolf Parade: the Canadian indie quartet plays mostly bouncy Beach Boys-style rock heavy with synths, retro charm and unique vocals sent straight from tree-huggers up north.

Yet while the group’s studio material rarely approaches anything near a fever pitch, Wolf Parade proved that it can back up its wild reputation on-stage during a frenetic 90+-minute set at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland Thursday night.

Playing mostly material from their third studio album, Expo 86, released late last month, co-songwriters Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner traded off songs, throwing their heads into spasms as they tried to keep u with the blazing pace of most songs.

Expo 86’s more straight-ahead rock feel coincided with the show’s frenetic mood, but several old tracks were also took a burst of caffeine in hopes of keeping up. "Fine Young Cannibals" and "California Dreamer," two tracks from Wolf Parade’s middle album, At Live Zoomer, shook off their subdued studio tones, and while the latter’s interlude teetered on the point of sounding overdrawn, the song’s frenzied outro more than compensated for this. Hit single “I’ll Believe in Anything” was one of the surprise beneficiaries of the group’s energy, as they tore through the track in what could not have been more than two minutes of drunken Thursday night sing-along.

And while the quartet mostly got things right in selecting their new material – save for the exclusion of Expo standout track "Little Golden Age" – it was surprising to see a bit more material from Zoomer than from the critically acclaimed hotel-room smasher.

The group’s song selection was most suspect on its encore. Krug perhaps exposed the band’s mistake of choosing favorites that simply don’t translate well during shows when he opened penultimate song “Two Men in Tuxedos” proudly saying something along the lines of, “The critics don’t like this song, but we’re playing it anyway.” That track, surely one of the weakest from Expo thanks to its meandering pace and lack of direction, was followed with Zoomer’s 8-minute closer, “Kissing the Beehive.” While a perfectly fine track on the album, Wolf Parade’s rhythmically complex closer seemed a bit too much for the crowd to go home to, especially since few of those in attendance seemed familiar with it.

Still, there were plenty of cheers as the band finished its set. And although Wolf Parade’s sound could be best described as cacophonic and at the expense of instrumental clarity in Beachland's intimate setting – this author's ears will still ringing the following morning – the group surely made up for its sonic deficiencies in sheer energy and enthusiasm.

Japanese band the Moools started the night off with a very solid set to a crowd that would have been mostly unfamiliar with their work. Guitarist Yasuaki Sakai’s voice was all over the place, but the instruments were spot on as the band played no-frills, infectious rock' n' roll. And to cap things off, Sakai and the rest of the band were visibly thrilled to be on-stage and in America. Sakai described his band’s brief visit of Niagara Falls earlier that morning, and vowed to do some sightseeing in Cleveland (although it wasn’t clear exactly what he would be visiting, especially now that LeBron is gone). And when his rudimentary English finally reached its limit, Sakai instantly made himself a fan favorite by settling with earnest suggestions to “Buy our stuff.”