It’s been a week and half since Wintersleep descended on the Marquee Ballroom to play the first of their two sold-out shows at the illustrious Halifax venue. March 29th, 2019 marked the release of the band’s latest LP In the Land Of, and these two nights served as an unofficial release party for the new material. For a city that has given the world such notable acts as Sloan, Sarah McLachlan, Joel Plaskett (with and without the Emergency), and Matt Mays, it should serve as no surprise that Wintersleep can easily pack this room on two consecutive nights.
Now that ability to pack the Marquee Ballroom might surprise some, as Wintersleep tends to take a year or two to craft indie-pop masterpieces that will linger with a listener long after the album has ceased spinning. I had a few conversations in the lead up to these shows, and the response was curiously the same each time: the person typically struggles to name a song or two beyond the band’s massive single “Weighty Ghost”, but the moment you start to play them tracks such as “Orca”, “Amerika”, “Freak Out”, and “In Came the Flood”, their ears and eyes perk up and they acknowledge just how deep the band’s catalogue is.
Walking into a room of like-minded people, you can feel the palpable buzz of excitement for the impending show. On this night, Tyler Messick’s band Museum Pieces was tapped to open. Right out of the gate, Messick walked to the edge of the stage, stepped across the photo pit, stood on a strategically placed gear case, and ripped an intricate guitar solo. From Messick’s pedigree as singer/songwriter, and his time as Win Butler’s guitar tech, to the talented group of humans (including Matt Gallant and Seamus Erskine) who joined Messick on the Marquee stage on Friday night, Museum Pieces was a great choice of opener. Messick’s songwriting pairs perfectly with that of Wintersleep, as it comes from that same atmospheric indie-rock sound with all the earmarks of the Halifax scene.
Some of the past shows at the Marquee have certainly tested the structural integrity of the venue. This pair of shows from Wintersleep were not nearly as bombastic or loud as The Tea Party or Monster Truck stops. There was a definite excitement in the air when Paul Murphy, Loel Campbell, Jon Samuel, Tim D’Eon, and Chris Bell hit the stage, and the room felt less like a crowd, and more like a congregation, ready to absorb those atmospheric indie-rock gems. It’s always a special moment when you get to see these 5 musicians ply their craft, and showcase exactly why they are one of the marquee acts to come from Halifax. The set spanned the band’s entire 18-year career, focusing heavily on In the Land Of as well as Welcome to the Night Sky, while weaving in work from the band’s other 5 albums.
After a jam-packed 16-song set, the lads left the stage, and with bated breath the crowd waited, all the while hooting and hollering in anticipation of the impending encore. There was little doubt that Wintersleep would call it a night, as this was of course a homecoming show, and they had yet to play some of their most beloved tunes such as “Orca”, “Lasers”, and “Nerves Normal, Breath Normal”, all of which made the extended encore even more special. After the 5-song encore, it was time to call it a night, as Paul, Tim, Loel and the lads had to do it all over again on Saturday evening. It was another magical evening at the Marquee with one of Halifax’s most beloved acts.