Happy New Year! Let’s start this new decade in the Live on 35mm style, independent and good music.
What better fit to keep you company during the hybernation due to this freezing weather than a band named after it?
I came across Wintersleep live twice in 2009. This post sums up images and reviews from both their Cambridge and London shows played five months apart.
Wintersleep are Canadian. Actually one of the best kept secrets of the very rich music scene happening north of USofA.
Formed in 2001 they recorded three albums, won awards, toured the world several times but, ten years later, there is still that sort of mysterious aura around Wintersleep that keeps them away from the spotlights.
They clearly work better far from the fuss, considering the quality of the music recorded throughout, but these guys deserve much more attentions than a support slot for the Editors European tour.
Wintersleep‘s music belongs to the best tradition of the alternative songwriting of North America.
In their songs you can ear the harmonic structures of early R.E.M. songs, echoes of the melodic taste of Band of Horses. You have passionate passages reminding The National and some powerful post-rock effected guitar playing which, especially on stage, reminds of Explosions in the Sky.
Wintersleep sound is deeper than Tom Smith wanna-be-a-rockstar band. They don’t aspire to stadium rock, not even big theatres. It’s a band happy to be within physical contact with their fans, who are not vast but surely committed and devoted.
This is why back in May the Cambridge Portland Arms was packed for their first gig in the university town.
The same happened last October with few hundreds more gathering in the Notting Hill Tabernacle for a one off headlining date.
It may seem weird that Wintersleep have been touring in 2009 an album published
in 2007. In fact this is the routine such bands have to go through. First they struggle to be noticed and signed by the right label.
Then embark in endless promotional tours that make them circumnavigate the world on a bus several times, hoping that note after note, song after song, the word of mouth among fans spread their music from the underground to the rest of the world.
Wintersleep first two albums were out in 2003 (Wintersleep) and 2005 (untitled) for Dependent, a defunct self promoted Canadian label which counted among the others Holy Fuck and Land of Talk.
Expectedly these very good pair, which can finally be streamed on Spotify, originally must have been a secret affair among bunch of students meeting over few beers in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
2007 has been their important year. Labwork a label linked to EMI Canada signed the band.
The first two albums where enriched and re-released and the third finally had a more effective distribution.
Not that Wintersleep made the NME cover (which is a good thing) but at least their name was able to cross the Atlantic and be caught by the UK blogosphere.
Welcome To The Night Sky, their third release, was out in October 2007. Early 2008 they deserved the prestigious Juno Canadian award for best new band. Quite a prize considering the impressive value of Canadian scene at present.
Wintersleep latest fatigue is a further improvement on their ability to craft wonderful tunes. It stands out as their best album to date. Proofs are the positive reviews published on all the magazines who are radars and references for the emerging music scene.
As a friend pointed out recently, today when someone doesn’t know how to classify a band, they compare it to Arcade Fire. Imagine if the band is even Canadian. Far too obvious.
The BBC journalist was no exception and managed to thumb down Welcome To The Night Sky as “Always listenable, but eminently forgettable” reasonably without listening to it. To write “it is not Funeral or Neon Bible” it is not a point, it’s a proof of ears-to-mind network failure.
Not happy with his Canadian confusion he managed to add to the soup even the Mars Volta epic style! I can’t think of a band more distant from Wintersleep then Mars Volta.
The two gigs pictured here, five months apart, showed me a different reality. A band that is very focus yet artistically on the move.
The Portland Arms show was a crammed experience in a pub. Wintersleep stood squeezed on its dark tiny stage, eager to deliver the loudest sound they could manage out of their instruments. We could touch the passion and the sweat. Guitars screamed what the producers didn’t permit to come out from the studio recordings.
The dusty, sticky atmosphere of the pub, put Wintersleep in a contest that reminded me of Band of Horses. Resounding guitars, untrimmed beards, steady drums and a low-fi audio mastering completed the event. Not counting a challenging dark lighting that pushed my lenses beyond their limits.
The Tabernacle, instead, is a posh venue in the heart of the posh Notting Hill area in London. With a nice restaurant downstairs, hosts the venue in the first floor.
Looking as a real tabernacle, the places preserves a sort of religious feeling. It has the stage in the place of the “altar”, the large squared area to stand and few rows of seats on three sides; it can host 500 devotees enjoying their faith.
The advantage of touring massively gave them confidence, the headlining show gave them time and space. The sum of two factors gave us a great show.
The venue isn’t full. British fans are shy enough to leave space between the stage and the first row. The absence of the barriers, of the security stopping me after three songs and loads of available light made this gig a photographer’s heaven. Totally different business compare to the Portland Arms darkness.
From the opening song Oblivion to the closing encore, the epic 8 minutes guitars ride of Miasmal Smoke & The Yellow Bellied Freaks we were delighted with almost two hours of great music.
In this shiny, wooden hall, with a perfect acoustic able to emphasize every single instrument, the band cleverly shifted the rougher, rockier approach listened in Cambridge for a cleaner sound. The melodies prevailed over the guitar feedback, shifting the balance towards a spotless, still effective result.
A charming song as Weighty Ghost took off brilliantly and induced the audience to sing along Wintersleep‘s catchiest chorus:
“Where o where’d my body go? and where’d my body go?
oh have you seen my ghost? Seen my ghost, seen my ghost.
oh have you seen my ghost? Staring at the ground.
oh have you seen my ghost? Seen my ghost. seen my ghost.
oh have you seen my ghost? sick of those god damn clouds.”
Astronaut, from the title to the music, reminds a classic lost track from R.E.M. repertoire. I took Black Camera as a personal homage to my worn out black cameras with which I was still hassling the musicians few inches from their nose despite that was the ninth song. (Hope you like the shots, guys!)
The end of the main set was for the energy of Nerves Normal, Breath Normal successful choice to keep everyone in the room high enough and asking for more.
More we got. The encore opened with Search Party that served as a launch ramp for the long suite Miasmal Smoke & The Yellow Bellied Freaks.
I take it as the scientific evidence that being a support band of someone which is musically inferior to yourself is frustrating and leaves you in need of unwind your tension dwelling on your stuff for hours.
Not a photo tip but another appeal, petition, plea… please!
I failed with the Astoria, the most beautiful London venue which is now a building site ready to host another tube station. I insist.
This time we must save the Portland Arms, which is a much smaller but still a great Cambridge venue.
Council plans are to flatten the area, including the historical pub to leave space for some soulless flats. Likely more of those glass/steel/concrete futuristic building which are erasing charming places to make all UK town centres look the same example of bland architecture.
Telling what the Portland Arms represent to the Cambridge music scene would need 2000 more words. Listing the number of acts who played here before becoming huge successes is impossible.
Reminding the council officers that, after the Boat Race and the Barfly, Cambridge can’t loose another small sized venue is a must that needs to be shout out loud again and again.
Whether you live next door in Milton road or the other side of the world, America, Australia or Nova Scotia, please support this fight to preserve one of the very few genuine places for live music, good food, beer and chatting with friends.
If Facebook pages have been powerful enough to allow Rage Against the Machine to be Christmas number one single over X-Factor there is hope. Tom Morello put it crystal clear: “The people united can never be defeated”
Join the “Protest Against The Portland Arms Being Bulldozed For Flats!!” group on Facebook;
and keep in touch to know if any sort of more active action will be taking place for the cause.
Be sure I’ll keep you updated. Don’t give up the fight!