REVIEW: Rockstar performances filled the stage at Friday’s folk festival


The War on Drugs and Orville Peck Kept The Hill Crowded and Groovy All Night

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The entire War on Drugs Friday Night Folk Festival was the acoustic equivalent of a candy store.

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With a rainbow of lights, some flashing, others dancing to the beat, the main stage was overshadowed by the band and their props. The space was filled with instruments and gear orchestrated by the multitasking eight-member ensemble, resulting in nothing less than a mini wall of sound.

After a decade of trying to land the rock band on the EMFM stage, the organizers finally succeeded and everyone seemed extremely satisfied. Even vocalist and guitarist Adam Granduciel, before finishing with Occasional Rain from last year’s release, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, conceded: “It was an honor to play here. It’s really special.

Adam Granduciel, vocalist and guitarist of The War On Drugs, performs onstage at the 2022 Edmonton Folk Music Festival on Friday August 4, 2022. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Also from the band’s latest album, Old Skin started it all, followed by Pain from the previous album before Granduciel addressed the crowd. He paid tribute to The Weather Station, also headlined at this year’s folk festival, as one of their “all-time favorite bands”, and to Mary Gauthier who they sat behind during the flight here.

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“It was amazing,” he insisted before embarking on Red Eyes, by far the band’s biggest hit.

As the daylight lingered with the crowd dancing in their daytime outfits, the big screen began working through close-up shots of the players, starting with drummer Charlie Hall. There was a stunning, silent but joyful reaction from the crowd upon seeing this spectacular figure, his mullet and mustache surpassed only by his black kimono covered in neon stains. This aesthetic alone elevated the experience and set the bar for the rest of the performance.

Headliner Orville Peck was also hailed with Strangest Thing dedicated to the masked country crooner. Granduciel explained that the two groups found themselves alone practicing in the studio during the pandemic and crossed paths in the room.

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“We didn’t say anything to each other, but if we had, it would have been friendly,” he told the crowd.

After the energetic Victim, it was a solid slowdown with the stage bathed in red light. But as the magic blue hour struck and a perfect half moon began to rise, the band once again turned to what they do best and hit their warped beat.

Harmonia’s Dream received a long late intro with fuzzy pedals and guitar effects, piano on the left, dual synth on the right, and two more keyboards that all came to life. A saxophone embellished all the sound from behind and a puff of smoke billowed into the night as the hill kept the beat.

Two acts – Sunny War and Jon and Roy – entertained as The War on Drugs packed up their expansive setup and made way for Peck to take the stage.

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And in no time he emerged, long white fringe hanging from his black leather mask and a barbed wire pattern running down his sleeves, pants and the underside of his rhinestone-filled hat. Peck didn’t lack for glamor on the main stage, right down to his golden microphone.

Surrounded by his polished band of four musicians all wearing cowboy hats, they hit in great form with Daytona Sand, the first track from his new album Bronco.

It’s a fantastic opener for the album and its Friday night set, making a thunderous galloping entrance that commands attention.

Peck switched from hollowbody electric guitar to acoustic guitar for The Curse of the Blackened Eye also by Bronco, a song he sent to anyone who felt mistreated.

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While her voice rivals the best in the west and her unusual backstory is equally enticing, her contemporary history colors her brand of country music and she pleases everywhere – the tens of thousands of people standing, stomping and grooving testified of this.

“There’s some good moves there, I see it,” he said before explaining what a patter song is. Using Johnny Cash’s I’ve Been Everywhere as an example of the fast, rhythmic pattern incorporating monosyllabic notes, he introduced his own, Any Turn.

“If you don’t know, you better dance,” he snapped, and the hill happily obeyed. His punk rock background shone through here and made that quick clap a breeze.

Her 2020 EP Show Pony features … Legends Never Die, a song about the importance of individuality that Peck recorded as a duet with Shania Twain. Here, her bandmate Bria Salmena contributed her low, smoky voice, a terrific foil to Peck’s wealth.

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Bronco’s title track closed the set and the band disappeared with a goodbye. But the hill stopped almost at capacity, patiently waiting for Peck to answer the cheers and return.

He did, but before he could enter the outstanding, an impersonator hopped onstage to say hello. Peck looked genuinely surprised and commented that the fringes on the stranger’s mask were even the same color.

“It’s like looking into a very dark mirror,” he joked, before learning the man’s name was Paul and wishing him good night.

Then he shouted to the crowd asking who was seeing him for the first time – despite playing in Edmonton just a few years ago, the crowd erupted in delight.

Peck agreed to play one more, The Iron Hood Cattle Call, and insisted it was like a right of passage for the fans.

“It’s like an induction into the Orville Peck gang, but you have to participate,” he said, giving the crowd the chance to whistle, sing, dance, hum, whatever, just participate.

And they gladly agreed because Peck produced all the energy one could want for a grand finale. And fitting a quick intro from his band in the final moments, they ended it in style, he bid the crowd good night.

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