For the past ten years, Sunday night in Toronto has been synonymous with Wavelength: the independent showcase that has featured some of T.O.'s best unsigned bands, many of whom - such as Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think - have gone on to indie rock stardom. But, as Wavelength creeped towards it's 500th edition, the founders decided to call it quits on the weekly format, opting instead to do a series of special one-offs. After a decade of late Sundays and bleary-eyed Mondays, I don't think anyone can really blame them.But, instead of fading gently into the good night, Wavelength decided to go out with a bang last week with a five-day 500th anniversary festival, inviting back many of the bands they've booked over the past ten years - even reforming some acts that have long since shoved off to that indie rock cloud in the sky. Unfortunately, I could only make it to the last two nights of the festival, but that was more-than-sufficient to gauge the musical depth and breadth this lakeside city has to offer.Saturday night's show was at the Polish Combatants Hall on Beverley St.: the VFW-like auditorium I visited during my last trip to Toronto in May. The door was kinda steep - $22 - but once inside, you could get 22 oz Zubr or Tyskie for $5. Wavelength founder and Master of Ceremonies Jonny Dovencourt spoke in between bands, giving shout-outs to everyone from the sound guy to the mullet dude who contributed the trippy visuals that played behind the stage. It was as folksy and down-to-earth as a basement party.The music was as eclectic as any bill I've been at. Picastro, led by Liz Hysen, sang dark, dissonant canticles while switching back-and-forth between violin and acoustic guitar. Juno winner Donne Roberts played Afrobeat, wielding his Fender like a latter-day Hendrix. Rockets Red Glare, playing their first show since 2003, sounded like an apocalyptic version of Built To Spill, punctuated by Evan Clarke's intense, high-pitched wailing. Closing were Constantines, who first played Wavelength back in 2001 and have gone on to become one of Canada's biggest bands, with a high-energy mix of punk and power rock.
Sunday night at The Garrison was - like almost all Wavelength shows - a pay-what-you-can affair, and boy, did patrons get their money's worth. I got there around 11:30, already four bands into the set but in time to catch the reunited The Barcelona Pavilion: one of the early progenitors of art rock in the "Torontopia" scene of the early '00's. They were followed by the completely over-the-top Kids on TV: a hyperactive version of Hercules and Love Affair, with projections and glitter boys (and girls) in Speedos. It was silly, but sufficiently poppy to get the entire room up and dancing. And, then came the unannounced acts. THOMAS is the new project of Thom Gill, who sings and plays guitar, and is best known as Owen Pallett's drummer. It sounded like yacht rock fused with jazz fusion, complete with synths, samples and surprisingly dissonant guitars. Then, Pallett (formerly known as Final Fantasy) took the stage, playing a set of new and old favorites while accompanying himself on violin. (Pallett, btw, is on the cover of this month's Exclaim, where he gets into the whole shebang about changing his stage name.) He closed by covering "Independence Is No Solution" with Steve Kado, singer/bassist for The Barcelona Pavilion and co-founder (with Pallett) of legendary local collective the Blocks Recording Club. You can check out their performance below.The show ended well past 3am with a short set by the Hidden Cameras: local legends who first played Wavelength back in 2001, and are still going strong. With a dozen or so past and present members (including Pallett and Gill), they were like a slimmed-down version of The Polyphonic Spree, and were soon joined by dozens more dancing with them onstage. It was a wild and exuberant end to an epic night - and decade.
I may not have been a Wavelength regular, but even just catching their swan song, it's easy to see why this series meant so much to Torontonians. It wasn't about trying to make it big, or bringing in some overhyped act for attention. It was about giving everyday, local bands a chance to play in front of an enthusiastic - if often small - audience. It was about having a place to go where everyone seemed to know each other (I casually hung out with Pallett at the bar, after being introduced by my friend, Nick), where the bands came just as eager to listen as the fans. And, out of this unlikely setup, Wavelength helped give birth to some of the most influential music of the past decade, in-or-out of Canada.
Toronto may be only 1/3 the size of New York, but they've got something Gotham should kill for: an active, genuine community built on support, trust and - dare I say it? - love. How's that for a Valentine's Day card? (More pics over at the Fan Page.)