Wintersleep + Walrus @ Bar Le Ritz – 2nd March 2016

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Everybody inside Bar Le Ritz should be counting their lucky stars tonight. Just this morning, a hellish blizzard supposed to bring 20+ cm of snow and zero visibility driving conditions was averted at the last minute, and now tonight we have Wintersleep playing, in a venue way smaller than the rest of Canada is getting. According the band’s tour manager, in Toronto, the 550-capacity Lee’s Palace show sold out in 4 days, and in Vancouver, they’re well on their way to selling out the 1000-capacity Commodore Ballroom. However, in Montreal, the show at Théatre Plaza was moved to the smaller, 300-capacity Bar Le Ritz, and there are still tickets at the door. Mystifying, no doubt, and while it must suck for the band, it makes for a gloriously intimate show for us.

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First up tonight, hailing from Halifax NS, are Walrus, with a 40-minute set of raw Rock and Roll. Musically, they sound a little like Kings Of Leon used to, but with Malkmus-y vocals. The lead singer looks a lot like a rough, moustached Ed Sheeran, sporting an Elton John baseball cap, which bombards the senses further! Songs follow a similar pattern, with lots of build-ups and brake-downs, with many a guitar solo in-between, but are well received.

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Wintersleep then take to the stage and launch right into Santa Fe from new record The Great Detachment, which sounds even meatier live than on record. The band soon veer off set list and slip in Orca from their 2003 self-titled debut, which sounds absolutely incredible. Frontman Paul Murphy reels off the metaphors in an incredibly haunting fashion (“I’ll be a Killer Whale when I grow up / I’ll be a vulture / I’ll be an animal / A Carnivore”), and packs such a punch live, which is unusual since its one of the quieter numbers of the set. Zones immediately follows, from 2012’s Hello Hum, my personal favorite Wintersleep song, which continues the goosebump-inducing vibe (literally speaking in my case, no exaggeration!), and rounds off an amazing start to the set.

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Current single Amerika, with its swirling Pixies-esque intro, and Spirit restore the upbeat pace, and is soon followed by Freak Out, the rockiest song from The Great Detachment, and translates particularly well into a live setting, with its driving bass line and thunderous guitars. Territory and Oblivion show off the bands stellar harmonies, and again keep up the fast pace of the majority of the set. Laser Beams begins with Paul playing solo, before being joined by the rest of the band mid-way through, before thoroughly rocking out to finish the song, clearly looking like they were having fun.

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If they were at all annoyed by the low ticket sales in our fair city, it certainly wasn’t showing. The main set concludes with a grandiose Miasmal Smoke & The Yellow Bellied Freaks, from 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky, the band slowly building and building it to a crescendo, before departing the stage after an intense 60 minutes. They return for an encore of Dead Letter and a furious rendition of Danse Macabre, with its Calm-Like-A-Bomb bass line, before departing the stage for good after an incredible show.

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For a long-time Wintersleep fan, it’s quite the conundrum. As much as you want them to get the bigger crowds and bigger stages they deserve (and indeed already have, elsewhere in Canada), the extremely intimate setting of tonight’s show made it so much more memorable, more personal, more moving, than a cavernous Metropolis or Corona show could ever achieve. Either way, regardless of venue size, as long as they continue to sound like this, nobody is going to be disappointed, anywhere in Canada.

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Set List
Santa Fe
Archeologists
Orca
Zones
Amerika
Spirit
Nothing Is Anything
Freak Out
Weighty Ghost
Lifting Cure
Territory
Oblivion
Laser Beams
Miasmal Smoke & The Yellow Bellied Freaks

Dead Letter
Danse Macabre

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Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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