Wolf Parade. Bowery Ballroom. 05.21.16
Spencer Krug was enjoying a cigarette as he leaned against a U-Haul trailer in front of Larimer Lounge in Denver, Colorado. It was a cool October evening in 2011. The man responsible for some of the greatest indie rock of the 21st century was traveling the country in a Dodge Caravan; promoting his first full length album as Moonface. Apologies to the Queen Mary had just turned six years old, and Shut Up I Am Dreaming was a year younger, yet Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown were both a thing of the past.
“Being in a band is like being married to three or four other people…like any relationship, you can tell when it’s going to come to a close,” Krug recalled, before adding ““it just can’t happen right now.”
Those were heartbreaking words to a fan of both bands, but they weren’t surprising. Paste Magazine had published a cover story posing the question “Is Indie Dead?” only a year earlier. And as the internet grew into the predominate music platform we all take for granted today, the lines started to blur between mainstream and indie rock. What did indie really mean anymore? If an indie band grew to a certain size, could it really be considered indie? And if that band started to feel more like a responsibility than a passion, was it really worth it? Spencer Krug, along with Dan Boeckner and the rest of Wolf Parade, decided it wasn’t. So they moved apart from each other and on to separate projects, such as Moonface, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits.
By shedding the unexpected fame of Wolf Parade, the members of the band were able to stay passionate. By walking away from major label offers and high profile success, they were able to stay ‘indie’.
Celebrating the return of a band that had only been away for five years could be considered a bit dramatic, especially when the group only existed in the public eye for about five years to begin with, so I understood some of the cynicism surrounding the return of Wolf Parade. I also understood the excitement around the reunion though, because I understood what is represented.
And to truly understand what is represents, you have to go back to the release of Apologies to the Queen Mary.
2005 was probably the first year of the ‘blog band’. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are the best example, but within a few months of Wolf Parade releasing their debut LP, we were also exposed to Animal Collective’s Feels, Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm, Broken Social Scene’s S/T, The Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday, The National’s Alligator, The New Pornographer’s Twin Cinema, Okkervil River’ Black Sheep Boy, and Sufjan Steven’s Illinois…just to name a few.
Sure, many of those bands had strong followings before those albums were released, but the internet made them rock stars in 2005. It also spawned thousands of copycats. And while the majority of those bands (and their copycats) continue to tour and release albums today, quite a few of them experienced their creative and musical peak over a decade ago. Wolf Parade never allowed that to happen. At Mount Zoomer and Expo 86 might not be the masterpieces Apologies is, but there is no doubt as to their authenticity among the indie canon of the mid-aughts.
By running from (instead of toward) the smell of success, Wolf Parade created a sort of cult of personality around the band. Their popularity only grew in their absence, leaving many fans shattered by the fact that they would never have the chance to see them perform live. Then, with a simple tweet and Facebook post (so appropriate for a band that was birthed by the internet), the desperation of squandered opportunity gave way to hope for what might be to come.
Wolf Parade were back. It didn’t matter that they were gone for less time than it takes many bands to recorded a follow-up album. All that mattered was that they were back.
Having seen Wolf Parade three times before their hiatus, as well as Krug and Boeckner performing with other bands at a half dozen other shows, I wasn’t exactly excited at the prospect of catching a reunion set at some huge festival. So when the Bowery Ballroom residency was announced, I immediately bought tickets. I had always wanted to attend a show at the Bowery. And any excuse for a long weekend in New York City is always a welcome one. So I found myself, along with my wife and a couple friends from Denver, standing a few rows back when Spencer Krug, Dan Boeckner, Arien Thompson, and Dante DeCaro took the stage for the fifth (and final) night of their reunion run at the tiny venue in Manhattan.
The Clash’s “The Magnificent Seven” introduced ‘the magnificent four’ before the house sound went down as the house lights came up; leaving the band buried in a blue glow. “Yo, what’s up?” Boeckner addressed the crowd as a man who, after five nights in the same space, felt very much at home. Nothing more than a featureless shadow hunched over a keyboard, there was no denying Krug’s voice as it warbled over Thompson’s simple backbeat. “I was asleep in a hammock, I was dreaming that I was a web.” And in a split second, it was like Wolf Parade had never left us in the first place.
“Cloud Shadow on the Mountain” gave way to an early trifecta of sing-along tracks from Apologies — “We Built Another World” (“I had a bad bad time tonight”), “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” (“one of them will be me, watching you run”), and “Fancy Claps” (“oh behold then, oh behold then, we can sing then”) — and we did sing then. Five hundred or so people, in a little room in a big city, all singing together. And it was glorious.
“Can we get a little more of this or that?” Krug joked, before introducing the band as “…Wolf Parade, we are a hundred years old.” It was an extreme exaggeration, of course, but it didn’t seem so outlandish when they were performing songs that felt as if they had existed forever. The rigid melodies, curious lyrics, and signature cymbals, chimes, and high notes all coalesced into memories that seemed so much older than they really were. The whole performance began to make me nostalgic for something I didn’t realize I had lost until that very moment; like when our parents hear classic rock songs on the radio.
“Solider’s Grin”, “An Animal in Your Care”, and “Fine Young Cannibals”, all from At Mount Zoomer, bookended three selections from the new EP 4. “Mr. Startup” found many people taking a quick bar or piss break, but “C’est La Vie Way” made me excited to hear more new material. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy when they found their way back to ’05 though. The last half of the set was primarily Apologies material. As Krug and Boeckner took turns leading the crowd through “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”, “Shine a Light”, “This Heart’s on Fire”, and “I’ll Believe in Anything”, I couldn’t help but try (and fail) to think of another indie rock album that had a stronger effect on my late-20’s.
When I spoke to Krug in front of Larimer Lounge, he mentioned his love of performing small shows, ‘smaller venues and smaller crowds are more intimate, where with Wolf Parade — it was a larger scale and there was a disconnect there.” The last time I saw them play, it was for thousands of people at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago. The show was amazing, and I could actually see the band better than I could with the lighting at Bowery Ballroom, but there was something about their energy in New York that could not be denied. It was representative of when I saw them at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in ‘07, but it was even better. Krug might have claimed fatigue, “this is like our fifth night here and it has been wonderful, although New York is killing me,” but the whole band was literally on fire the entire set.
“We want to give a quick shout out to Bowery Ballroom. We’ve always loved this venue. That’s why we wanted to do five nights here instead one big show – best venue in New York City!”
By the time the encore of “Modern World” and “Kissing the Beehive” came to a close, an hour and a half after the show started, I felt the adrenaline rush and exhaustion of a long distance runner. I was still singing “because nobody knows you, and nobody gives a damn either way!” as we made our way up the stairs and out into the city. A group of kids were hanging out smoking cigarettes nearby. I eavesdropped on their conversation about Wolf Parade. They had never heard the band before, but one of them attempted to described their sound as “gothic with some indie rock influences and electronic side projects.” I couldn’t help but laugh.
If Wolf Parade went on hiatus because they didn’t want to follow the trajectory of a band like Arcade Fire, the conversation between those kids should make them very happy. Selling out an impressive residency at the Bowery Ballroom (as well as seeing their name in print on most of the major summer festival posters this year) reinforced the effect they have had on the thousands of fans who love them. But if they needed to be reminded of their relevance in an ‘indie’ scene that might not be so dead after all, the ignorance of those New York City kids should have done the trick.
Cloud Shadow on the Mountain
We Built Another World
You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son
C’est La Vie Way / Floating World
An Animal In Your Care
Fine Young Cannibals
Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts
Shine a Light
What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)
This Heart’s On Fire
I’ll Believe in Anything
Kissing the Beehive