When you have a band the calibre of Wintersleep that was forged in the acclaimed and diverse music scene of Halifax, you have to feel somewhat sorry for the other cities in the country where Wintersleep plays to more expansive rooms than the Marquee Ballroom. When Loel Campbell, Tim D’Eon, Paul Murphy, Jon Samuel and Chris Bell (formerly of Hamilton’s Chore) roll through, they could easily fill larger venues in town, but they opt for the storied Marquee stage. It’s a space well suited to the band’s indie rock sound, and it’s an intimate enough room when the boys opt to dial things down for quieter fare.
Having recorded their latest album The Great Detachment here, the band has never been gone for an extended period of time, as they headlined last summer’s inaugural Gridlock Festival. On this visit, the band played a pair of shows over a January weekend, and on both nights the venue was packed. Personally, it was my first time seeing the band in a number of years, as I drifted away around the time of Welcome To the Night Sky, and I’m pretty sure the last time I caught a performance was when Sir Paul McCartney graced the city with his presence. It was a show that the former Beatle handpicked the band to open, as he was a fan, and they sounded great, but that was the last time I saw them perform live.
It wasn’t until The Grand Detachment was released in early 2016 that I returned to the fold, as the album harkened back to the band’s eponymous debut, and untitled follow-up. In looking back over the band’s past trio of albums, I can’t explain what lost my interest, but their latest album caught my ear and never let go. It barely missed my Top 10 albums list of 2016, and with tracks such as “Amerika”, “Santa Fe” and “Spirit”, I was excited to hear the new material played live and hoped to hear some of the early work too.
Not only did the band’s latest album harken back to their early work from the mid-’00s, the Sunday start time felt like a vintage Marquee show. The doors didn’t open until 9pm, and the show was slated to kick off at 10pm, on a Sunday night nonetheless. As I get older there’s a lot to be said about the merits of an early start time. However, this was a night where the classic Marquee Time Rule was invoked, and the headliner didn’t hit the stage till close to 11pm; needless to say that Monday was going to need the coffee flowing. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what I was getting into with a late Sunday show and, having seen the band back in the day, I knew it would be well worth it.
Kicking the night off were local darlings Not You, and the Halifax-based four-piece put on a set that very much reminded me of a female Wintersleep. Sure there were some technical difficulties which kept everyone on their toes, but the banter from Stephanie Johns and Nancy Urich kept things light and moving along. It was a solid set of indie pop tunes that were very much in the same vein as the evening’s headliners. Once the openers cleared their gear away, it was time for the prep to begin for Wintersleep’s set.
The crowd in the Marquee was primed (if not a bit weary) for Loel, Tim, Paul, Jon and Chris when they took to the stage, and launched into “Santa Fe” from The Great Detachment. For the next 90 minutes, the band treated the packed house to a set comprised of tracks largely from their latest release, and interspersed choice cuts from the band’s stellar Welcome To The Night Sky. (Who doesn’t want to hear “Weighty Ghost” or “Archeologists”?) It was an absolute treat to see the band firing on all cylinders, from Tim D’eon doing his best Animal impression (if Animal gave up the drums), Jon Samuel’s stellar work behind the keys (and at times in front of the mic) and Paul Murphy’s unmistakable voice taking us through a tour of Wintersleep’s entire catalogue. While it may have been a late Sunday night show, it was an absolute treat to behold. As the band wound through the closing minutes of “Nerves Normal, Breath Normal”, I made my way into the chilly January evening and headed for home. It was a great night of Halifax music, in a Halifax institution. Until next time, Wintersleep.