Notorious after-hours dance club the Comfort Zone initially seemed like an odd choice for the Arbutus Records showcase, but it turned out that the black lights, bass-heavy sound system and rave-y atmosphere were perfect matches for the Montreal Label's woozy hallucinogenic sounds. Even the shambolic 70s pop of show openers Paula made sense in the grimy basement club, sounding like an acid-casualty version of Jonathan Richman.
Despite seeming absurdly shy and self conscious when addressing the crowd, Braids sounded amazing when they started playing. They've dropped many of their more overtly indie rock references, and sound far more electronic than on their 2011 debut Native Speaker. R&B influences are also further in the foreground, with complex skipping rhythms borrowed from UK 2-step and old Timbaland productions. I'm suddenly a lot more excited about their new album Flourish // Perish.
Following Braids' slick production values and deep bass, Sean Nicholas Savage's art-damaged singer-songwriter crooning felt like an abrupt left turn. Many of his songs come across like lo-fi versions of Thin White Duke-era Bowie, backed up by what sounds like cheap Casio keyboard beats. The sonics are a bit silly, but Savage seems to take it seriously, as do his obsessive fans. It wasn't until he performed a heart-wrenching, a cappella song towards the end of his set that we were convinced he wasn't just having a laugh.
Biggest surprise of the night came from headliners Blue Hawaii. After asking the crowd if they wanted to hear the "dancing set," the duo delivered - tweaking their introspective electronic pop into high-energy pounding psychedelic techno, making full use of the Comfort Zone's impressive low end. Anyone worried that they'd come across as too sleepy for a 1 am slot on a Thursday were definitely proven wrong.
Unforgettable moment: Sean Nicolas Savage playing his entire set shirtless, his bare chest acting as a screen for the tripped out projections made by some mysterious guy named Steve.