I heard myself shriek “Nerves!” as Wintersleep front man Paul Murphy laughed and said they were deciding what to do for their last few songs of their set at the Constellation Festival in Squamish, BC. I was far enough away from the stage that my request would have been drowned out, but they had started their set with a slew of newer songs, and it seemed like they were saving the best for last. I guess I was a little excited.
I remember the days when they used to open their shows with the slow burning requiem “Miasmal Smoke and the Yellow-Bellied Freaks”, a song that starts off with a single chord on the keyboard under a steady, undulating drum beat and spends the next eight minutes ascending into a sonic explosion.
So, when I say that it seemed to take them a couple of songs to really hit their stride, I say that with a good understanding of what this band is capable of. It seemed like there might have been sound issues affecting things, but the Nova Scotian band seemed a little out of sync for the first two songs.
Luckily, everything seemed to fall into place the second they started playing “America”, a fan favourite off their sixth studio album The Great Detachment. People were singing along, the crowd was getting bigger, and something just clicked within the band.
Loel Campbell and his intrepid drum kit were set up a little back of center stage. To his left were lead singer Paul Murphy and bassist Chris Bell and to his right, guitarist Tim D’eon and Jon Samuel on keys. In my humble opinion, Campbell has one of the most distinctive styles of drumming in the indie circuit, it’s like the secret sauce that helps package the throbbing lyrics of poetic genius Paul Murphy into savory sound bites.
The first half of the performance was almost entirely songs from their latest two albums, The Great Detachment and In the Land of, both of which I really like, and both of which offer somewhat of a departure from the band’s melancholic material. I was happiest to hear “Never Let You Go,” a sweet little stripped down, foot stomping, hand-clapping ditty from In the Land of.
The crowd was loving it, and the breathtaking Squamish Valley under a slowly setting sun was probably the perfect setting to showcase the newer songs from their catalog. Songs like “Beneficiary,” and “Spirit” seemed especially resonant.
The thing is, even though I really like the recent material, I love the emotionally charged early albums from long ago and those tracks still tug on my heart strings. I may no longer be the self-medicating pot head that dove headlong into their back catalog after hearing “Weighty Ghost” for the first time, but I recognize that their woeful works have staying power. Welcome to the Night Sky and Ho Hum in particular, are albums that I can still listen to in their entirety from start to finish. In addition, tracks like “Jaws of Life” and “Faithful Guide” also have permanent spots on some of my playlists.
When Murphy announced they would be playing an older tune, I got very excited. That older tune turned out to be “Dead Letter and Infinite Yes,” and signaled the start of the second half of the performance, which featured older, mournful material. The dark and aching “Orca” from their self-titled debut album was a delightful gift for those of us hard core fans.
I think I’ve yet to see them perform without hearing the infectious anthem “Weighty Ghost,” which followed soon after. I found myself musing about how every now and then I miss feeling… all the low-down feels. It’s weird, but true. I probably wasn’t happy or as pleasant to be around twelve years ago, but my art was better and for whatever reason, beautiful things were more beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’ve mostly dealt with my trauma and I don’t regret no longer being a train wreck, but… I guess the thing is, there is a but.
Back in the here and now, everyone who had gathered to see Wintersleep was clapping and singing along gleefully to their decade old break-out hit.
Perhaps that was meant to be the finale, but by some stroke of luck they found themselves with a few extra minutes’ worth of stage time, and that’s when Murphy and his bandmates began talking amongst themselves to decide which songs to fill the time with.
First up was “Laser Beams,” a lyrical and melodic fire storm from Welcome to the Night Sky that appeased many fans in the crowd. As you should have guessed by now, they ended their set with “Nerves Normal Breath Normal,” a simmering jam from their Untitled album that is best heard live. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect song to end a set. that opened with radio friendly songs and ended with fan favourites. It was pretty darn glorious.
Bonus: I stayed until the very end and had just enough time to get to the pit for Bahamas. Nicely played, gents.