The Shwaltz is a third-annual free outdoor music festival held in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. A lot of talented bands from the Toronto area turned up to play, and I couldn’t resist the chance to see some high calibre play in this low-key setting. As one of the festival organisers described it: “The Shwaltz is the little rock festival that could.”
Gig/Concert: The Shwaltz music festival in Oshawa
Venue: Memorial Park, Oshawa, ON, Canada
Date: 19 September 2009
Headliners: The Mark Inside, The D’Urbervilles
In one word: Sedated
In the past week I’ve nay-sayed invites to see a few big gigs in Toronto including Winter Gloves and USS, and I even shot-down an opportunity to see U2 from point-blank range. So I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in bemusement as I found myself onboard a Durham Regional Transit city bus late Saturday afternoon en-route to attend The Shwaltz, a free open-air concert being held at Memorial Park in Oshawa – did I really turn down those shows and instead turn up for this?!? A bit of an odd call, no doubt. My decision to attend The Shwaltz was mainly inspired by my never-ending thirst for finding new music, and on this occasion I was particularly curious to check out Volcano Playground and Forest City Lovers. Although my decision to jump on a train to Oshawa at the last moment, late Saturday afternoon, might also have been influenced by the cocktail of prescription medication which I’m currently taking to deal with a pain in the neck – in any case I wouldn’t recommend visiting Oshawa without some kind of sedation.
The Shwaltz started at 1 p.m. but I didn’t arrive until just before 6, meaning I’d missed a few bands but fortunately I was in time to see Volcano Playground. This was my first live taster of the mysterious aural candy being created by Volcano Playground, a band formed from the remains of three other bands; The Recroom, Thee Side Project and Antique Toys. VP play a minimalist or ‘far out’ style of rock, with swirling sounds that create the kind of cosmic energy that you can easily zone out to. The energy of their music would be better channeled in a dimly-lit venue full or at home in your bedroom as you stare at the ceiling and ponder life and universe. However, this energy was not lost at The Shwaltz, as Volcano Playground set the tone for the evening, as people chilled-out, and in some cases spaced-out, as they sat back on the grass and benches and enjoyed the music. If you’re a fan of Sigur Ros then you must seek out Volcano Playground.
The Shwa, as the local cool kids say, is not the most happening place and seemed like a ghost town when I ventured a few blocks from Memorial Park in search of nourishment before the next artist took to the stage. I eventually came across a pizza shop with an open door but with the lights switched off. Fearing a robbery may have just occurred, I cautiously stepped inside: “Uh… I don’t mean to be rude… are you guys still open?” – they were indeed open and $3.41 for two huge slices of Hawaiian was a bargain that you’ll never see the likes of at any of the pizza joints back in The Big Smoke.
Back at the bandshell folk songstress Jadea Kelly played out to a slowly setting sun, with flickering sun beams and shadows from the trees providing a contrast of light and dark that created just the right ambience for a crowd pleasing set.
Forest City Lovers came on at 7 p.m. and maintained the chilled-out vibe – and not just chilled-out, as the temperature became noticeably chillier which is perhaps an omen that the seasonal weather in this part of Canada is once again ready to leap straight from summer to winter. I rolled down my shirt sleeves and allowed the Forest City Lovers to embrace me with the warmth of their sound. Kat Burns has a sweet and gentle vocal which is ideally carried by music which is both delicate and ornate, with strings, drums and keys. I’d call this easy listening for the 21st century. Personal set highlights for me included Orphans and new song Minneapolis.
I’ve not seen or heard much of Forest City Lovers before now, but I’m already enthused enough about them to rank them high among a burgeoning indie scene here in Canada. There really is an immense amount of talent breaking through right now, and new acts don’t have to look far for inspiration, with stellar bands like Woodpigeon, The Rural Alberta Advantage and The Weakerthans flying the flag high for Canadian indie. I feel privileged to be here on this side of the North Atlantic at this moment when the stock of Canadian music can only continue to rise to all-time highs, and surely it’s only be a matter of time before people back home in the UK and the rest of Europe truly catch wind of the talent in Canada. Really guys, there’s (now) more to Canadian music than Bryan Adams, Rush, Neil Young, Feist and errm, Nickelback.
Up next came FCL’s label mates The D’Urbervilles, with both groups being part of Toronto indie label Out Of This Spark. The bands also share members, with bassist Kyle Donnelly and guitarist Tim Bruton – (that’s Tim Bruton not Tim Burton) – playing for both bands tonight, while D’Urbs frontman Johnny O’Regan had also joined FCL onstage for their set closer.
It’s only been a few weeks since I saw The D’Urbs at V-Fest; tonight’s show lacked the intensity of that set, which was to be expected given setting of this show and the sparse crowd, most of whom were sat 20 metres or so away from the stage. There was still a connection, albeit a rather scratchy long-distance one, but Johnny O’Regan managed to keep the crowd interested – his manic movements and rather deranged mid-song dance moves are hard to ignore. The D’Urb’s set finished with a brand new song, which Johnny O’ announced as being just a couple of days old. This track, [I think it was called Cody G], is named after a baseball player from the Toronto Blue Jays – my notes on this song read simply: “mildly psychotic”.
Fittingly, the last band of the night was The Mark Inside, a band that have their roots locally having started out in The Shwa’s neighbouring town Whitby. I’m not actually a total stranger to Oshawa, having spent part of 2008 in Whitby, and I can recall seeing the Mark Inside on a few occasions at The Atria and The Dungeon. The latter venue is now extinct, but there is hope on the horizon for a rejuvenation in the local scene in the ‘Shwa with the recent opening of the Green Bottle, a new venue which hosted an after party gig following The Shwaltz.
The Mark Inside were much more interesting tonight than I can recall from previous run-ins – actually all I really remember of The Mark Inside is that name, which I don’t think much of. They still have one of the worst band names going but tonight they busted a gut and put in a shift of bustling multi-dimensional garage rock that was well received by the home support. The peak of the set came with House Of Cards, a song for which the band had fore-warned parents to get their children’s ear muffs at the ready for, as it “gets a bit heavy” in places. Lead singer Chris Levoir seemed to put a bit extra into this one, which was visible by his shut eyes, flared veins and strained neck at the most anguished moments as he sung about a broken heart. The Mark Inside finished up with The Sky Is Falling, which was quite the trip and featured an awesome intro with a rather splendid bass line.
© Brian Banks