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Snowblink. Photos by Zach Slootsky.
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FIRST THURSDAYS: LONG WINTER TAKEOVER with SNOWBLINK and DOOMSQUAD at the AGO, Thursday, January 2. Rating: NNN
The two marquee music performances at AGO First Thursdays: Long Winter Takeover were a study in contrasts. The first: Toronto's indie-pop duo Snowblink (backed on this occasion by four musicians) appeared in a black-walled room under bright lights, singer Daniela Gesundheit looking ethereal with a long, velvet forest-green dress and antlered guitar. There was a helluva lot of reverb in the sky-high-ceilinged fifth-floor museum space, really putting the space in the band's space-folk elements, but it kind of suited their dreamy vibe. The musicians managed it well, and if anyone's voice lends itself to such an echoey sound, it's Gesundheit's crystal vocals. "It's kind of like we're all in a really nice shower together," she said.
The singer introduced standout tune Terrific Powers by saying it was based on a Jewish folk song women sang to each other in labour, and with the handclaps that ensued, and the small group of people who opted not to stand, sitting cross-legged in front of the stage, the whole thing had a séance vibe.
The set's only real dampers were a very few squeals of feedback, easily forgiven, especially since we were treated to sublimely angelic harmonies courtesy of Gesundheit and Felicity Williams.
The Montreal siblings trio Doomsquad, on the other hand, were much darker and decidedly less inviting, playing their set behind toxic green lights and a chicken wire installation they made themselves, that was progressively more covered up (with the assistance of helpers dressed in all black) by translucent plastic tarps as the show went on. (Very cool.)
Delicate moments of world instrumentation injected light into the band's shadowy experimentation. A flautist gave levity to Darth Vader-style voice distortion; an engaging sequence of didgeridoo made swoony waves of seasick reverberating noise more accessible.
The psychedelic squalls and dense feedback were often grounded in a heavy-handed beat, giving structure to what could otherwise seem structureless. Challenging, yes, especially by set's end, but never, ever staid.
Elsewhere onsite: pop-up performances by Isla Craig and Henri Fabergé, cheeky interactive installations, and a large art bazaar taking over Walker Court. Meaning that, despite seemingly interminable lineups at every juncture, there was enough sensory stimulation to make the combination of two of Toronto's favourite monthly festivals a hit.