HPX 2013 preview: Once more unto the breach…

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Last year, my number one Halifax Pop Explosion priority was to not get sick. For the first time: mission accomplished.

Still, I confess that I always approach the week with equal parts fevered anticipation and anticipation of fever (or a cough, or runny nose). Five straight late nights of rock and roll (and metal and pop and etc etc etc) is hard enough to sustain at the best of times, let alone at the start of flu season. But what other cause is more worthwhile of sacrificing of body in the name of spirit?

For me, there’s always two sides to the HPX experience. The first is the sheer volume of amazing local and regional talent, all smooshed into a wonderfully small window of time. The other is that it’s a rare opportunity for national or international talent that otherwise wouldn’t make it to our shores to come and play their hearts out for an appreciative Haligonian audience.

I’m going to helping the Exclaim! team with HPX coverage, but will still come back here to the blog for a week-in-review wrap-up when all is said and done. But to kick things off, here’s what I’m looking forward to from the five days ahead.

bus

THE BUS
Halifax is a small city, and most of the downtown venues are located within a reasonable walking distance. But there’s been plenty of nights where the next band I’ve want to see has been up at Gus’ or over at Olympic Hall and I play the lazy game — or, if we want to be generous, “self-sustaining” game — and simply stick to the same neighbourhood. For Thursday-to-Saturday this year, that all changes: HPX has a free shuttle bus service operating from 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. for anyone with a wristband or pass. It travels the peninsula from the north to the south end and back again, and will presumably have The Replacements on the soundtrack if someone at HPX is smart and thinking ahead. Check out the route map.

poptalksTHE POPTALKS
For the first time this year, the entire two-day “PopTalks” conference is included with a wristband purchase. Many of the sessions are targeted towards bands and industry folks, but there’s a few notable exceptions that could be super interesting to general audience folks: Trevor Murphy on Marilyn Manson as social prophet; Vish Khanna on the connection between comedy and music; an artist talk with Metz; and “Broadside,” with Tara Thorne an Stephanie Domet “gesticulating wildly” about women in music. See the full schedule.

salonTHE POLARIS SALON
Shameless self-promotion time returns: I’ll be part the Polaris Music Prize salon again this year, which is takeing place Saturday afternoon as part of PopTalks but is free and open to everyone. The Salons are a national critics chat series where we discuss Canadian music generally and the Polaris Prize specifically. I’ll be joined by Exclaim‘s James Keast (who is also the Polaris chief returning officer / jury “wrangler”) and Canadian Musician‘s Andrew King, with the chat moderated by Polaris founder Steve Jordan. I’ll share as many insights from this year’s grand jury as I’m legally allowed under my blood oath of silence, and I’m sure we’ll be talking about a certain open letter too (no, not Sinead’s). We’ll be looking ahead to the 2014 prize too, so come out and tell us which records you think should be runners up to Arcade Fire next year.

repeatsTHE REPEATS
In the past couple of years, HPX has offered repeat performances by select bands as “secret guest” slots. There are still a few secret slots in the festival lineup (we’ll have to wait and see how those pan out — tonight’s, for example, is local wunderkind Rich Aucoin) but there’s also a whole ton of artists who are playing on two separate nights: Metz, Obits, badbadnotgood, Cold Warps, Leif Vollebekk, Dusted, Suuns, Diana and more. Given the degree to which the festival’s best acts are jammed into Thursday-to-Saturday, the repeats make it a lot easier to navigate some of the

churchTHE CHURCH SHOWS
While Olympic Hall may be the most welcome venue addition HPX has made in recent years, there’s still something wonderful about sitting in the pews of St. Matthew’s United Church and appreciating the festival’s best acoustics. This year’s church lineup isn’t as epic as in some years — though this may be because I still really, really, really don’t like Braids — but Hannah Georges (Thursday) should be a great show and I can attest to the fact that Tony Dekker’s voice sounds pretty incredible in the Church (he’s doing a solo set on Saturday).

shadislandsTHE FREE SHOWS
Two years ago, HPX tried to host a free outdoor show on the Grand Parade featuring Stars, but Halifax’s fledgling Occupy movement squatted on the space, forcing HPX to move the gig inside to Olympic Hall. This year, the idea is back, and doubled. Friday night’s four-act show is headlined by the incredible Shad, who just added another ace to his discography with the release of Flying Colours earlier this month. And Saturday brings Nick Thorburn’s band Islands to Halifax for the very first time. Best of all: the free shows are early enough that you’ll then have plenty of time to make it to the evening’s regular engagements.

younggalazyTHE RETURN OF YOUNG GALAXY
The last time Young Galaxy played Halifax, it was HPX 2007 and the band was an Arts & Crafts minor leaguer at best. Then came 2011’s Shapesifting, and suddenly Young Galaxy became New Order-loving dance-pop band — and a pretty damn good one at that. Both Shapeshifting and this year’s Polaris-shortlisted Ultramarine are a bit inconsistent (though the latter’s much superior), but at their highest highs, they’re incredible: “New Summer” may be a strong contender for the best Canadian song of the year. If you’re looking to swoon to some synths this week, Friday night at the Marquee is the place to be.

walkmenTHE WALKMEN
Everyone has their favourite HPX “come from away” act. This year, for some people, that might mean Waaves, or maybe Action Bronson and Killer Mike. But for me, it’s the Walkmen, whose 2004 Bows and Arrows was a last-year-of-college staple and whose Heaven was a strong contender for my favourite record of 2012. Like a barely-contained R.E.M., their songs jangle with knives-in-hand, the sound held together by the raspy croon of vocalist Hamilton Leithauser. I’ve only seen the band once before, in a shortened Osheaga set that didn’t even include their greatest song, and it was still top-shelf. So for all the amazing bands Friday night, Olympic Hall is where I’ll be.

japan-metzTHE JAPANDROIDS/METZ DOUBLE BILL
Or as I like to call it, “earplugs required”: two of Canada’s best, loudest rock bands back-to-back Saturday night at Olympic Hall. Metz were devastating at last year’s Sappyfest and absolutely crushed at the Polaris gala last month, whereas Japandroids’ shortened-but-sweet HPX set at the Paragon in 2009 is a minor legend (and not just because Brian didn’t shut about it when the band played Halifax again in 2011). Given that Celebration Rock was one of 2012’s best albums and the band are only now making it to Halifax to play it, their return is long overdue, but we hold no grudges in Halifax. We just throw our fists in the air like everyone else.

Wondering what else to see at HPX? Check out the full schedule at the festival website.

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