Long Winter at the Great Hall

Popular fest showcases songwriting, induces moshing in penultimate edition

ALVVAYS, SHEEZER, ARK ANALOG and PS I LOVE YOU as part of LONG WINTER at the Great Hall, Friday, February 7. Rating: NNNN

The snaking lineup outside the Great Hall even before Long Winter’s first band took the main stage was an indication of how popular this monthly mix of music, art, comedy and food has become to Torontonians keen to brave frigid conditions on Friday nights.

Inside, Alvvays were at ease with a sparsely filled main room. The five-piece bounced playfully around the stage, providing a welcome introduction for many to their jangly twee-pop, while presenting incredibly precise songwriting skills. With a full-length reportedly due soon, they seem poised to make major noise in the industry.

All-female Weezer cover act Sheezer, comprised of members of By Divine Right and The Bicycles among others, looked a hell of a lot more enthused to be performing classics from Pinkerton and the Blue Album than Rivers Cuomo has been of late. Loose and carefree, they had the 13 year old in me (and, hell, the 30 year old in me) grinning ear to ear. Many crowded the front of the stage, eager to sing along like they did way back when.

“You’re going to start out ironic but you’re going to end off sincere. And you’re going to know when it happens,” they warned before Say It Ain’t So. Too late: I was already fighting back tears of sweet nostalgia. Scratchy guitar solos only added to the fun.

Downstairs in Blk Box, the set of faux TV show Long Night With Vish Khanna featured a surprise revamp. New rows of stadium seating gave the ever-evolving feature a more professional feel. It did start a bit late, however, and a rocky monologue put the whole thing at risk of derailing completely. But Khanna recovered like a pro: an engaging interview with local writer Dave Bidini about hockey was a treat.

Over in the Samuel J. Moore restaurant, synth-heavy Ark Analog delivered a figuratively and literally colourful set (Maylee Todd was rocking green hair). Perfect, considering Toronto wants to show as many colours as we can right now. In a night of guitar-laden programming, the duo’s palpable chemistry and charisma eventually packed the room.

Another duo, PS I Love You, wasn’t able to showcase the years of chemistry they’ve honed. Guitarist/lead singer Paul Saulnier announced the absence of drummer Benjamin Nelson, and looked fairly nervous doing so. Luckily, Fucked Up drummer Jonah Falco was on-hand and filled in admirably, prompting Saulnier to name the band “PS I Fucked Up.” Clearly a fan, Falco added clout to Saulnier’s new songs – more emotional and hook-filled than previous efforts. Saulnier – who also delivered a live cooking exhibition earlier in the evening – is cementing himself as one of the country’s most exciting songwriters. Saulnier and Falco rumbled through the rousing Starfield as if they’d done so a thousand times before. It was enough to start a mosh pit with fans barely keeping their footing.

All in all: a satisfying edition of Long Winter. The masses left with their free seven-inch singles featuring performers Teenanger and HSY (on orange-splatter vinyl!), anticipating the fifth and final instalment on March 7.

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