There are cities in New England who host numerous great shows on a weekly basis, but growing up Mainer, years of conditioning have taught me that seeing my favorite bands with any sort of regularity means frequent road trips to Boston. The Portland scene appears to have a brighter future ahead, greatly due to the constantly improving show list at the spankin' new Port City Music Hall and the fall re-opening of our beloved State Theater. Ideally this will one day lead to a local music scene where there are so many great shows that we can take them for granted. But as all Mainers know, even in our lone city of Portland, that's still far from a reality. No, when one of our favorite bands actually comes to our state, nothing is taken for granted. We put on our best flannel, duct tape a 30 rack of the finest blue ribbon lager to our moose, head for town and throw ourselves a fucking party.
Last July I was longing to do just that when it was announced the Handsome Furs, guitarist Dan Boeckner's electronic Wolf Parade side project, would be heading to town. I counted the days with glee until the group cancelled its Maine date, presumably to rest up for the shows in real states that actually matter. Lacking its shining moment, the whole state of Maine cried for a month, until Mid-August when it finally stopped raining and we actually got two full weeks of summer. But redemption abounded on Sunday night, when Boeckner not only rescheduled in Portland, but brought along his Montreal hipster messiah pals from Wolf Parade. And the natives were pleased, rowdily packing into a sweltering room, sweating profusely despite their willingness to remove clothing and repeatedly gulp ice cold draughts.
Often labeled with the title super group, due to the glut of side projects they (primarily keyboardist/vocalist Spencer Krug) create outside of Wolf Parade, the group certainly looked the part on Sunday night. Each core member radiated a distinct persona as they took the stage. Boeckner and Krug, the group's notoriously non collaborative vocalists, each had a unique energy. Krug's flowing mane and possessed keyboard playing portrayed the vibe of a modern day compositional mad genius, which doesn't seem to be far from the truth these days. Boeckner embraced Maine style, sporting a classic wife beater as he vigorously shook every ounce of his toothpick body. I could only see the artists from the waist up, so I couldn't tell if he'd completed the local look with a rocking chair, a shotgun and a spittoon. Guitarist Dante DeCaro and drummer Arlen Thompson seemed far more laid back, keeping their cool as they kept the beat.
Fashion reporting and poor jokes aside, Wolf Parade's greatest strength was their ability to defy segregation stereotypes and put on their tightest, most cohesive show of the three I've seen over the past 5 years. Opener "Soldier's Grin," a relatively subdued studio track set the tone for the night, sounding rougher, faster and much, much louder than ever before. Krug unsurprisingly followed suit with "What Did My Lover Say?" a standout on the group's newest album Expo 86, kicking off an amazing night of two commanding presences democratically sharing the mic. The vocalists each had their moments in the limelight. Like Krug cheerily singing "nobody loves you and nobody gives a damn," along with a euphoric audience during "I'll Believe In Anything." Or Boeckner and DeCaro compensating for losing their resident synthesizer expert by playing keyboard with one hand while cradling a guitar with the other during electronic leaning tracks like "Oh You, Old Thing."
But the finest moments came in bursts of collaboration. Watching Krug and Boeckner playfully interact while sharing the stage, and listening to their oil and water voices dovetail as they back each other up is what sets Wolf Parade's live shows ahead of their studio material. Moments like a chaotic jam at the end of "Fine Young Cannibals" and DeCaro, Krug and Boeckner all singing their broken hearts out on "This Heart's On Fire" displayed a passionate group unity that brought the whole crowd together.
The encore was a perfect bookend. Krug and Boeckner each played a classic track from their debut album ("You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son" and "Shine A Light" respectively) before trading lead vocal duties on "Kissing The Beehive," a relentless 11 minute journey that's overwhelming in studio form, but a powerful live display of the group's many talents in action. The buzzing in my ears has finally left me, but the buzz around town rages on. Wolf Parade's performance wasn't just a great show for Maine, it was a great show period, and one that any city could be grateful for.