Purity Ring / Braids / Born Gold Churchill Square, Edmonton AB, June 14
For fans, Purity Ring's homecoming show, the largest they've played to date, was a dream lineup — and for the longest time, it looked like it wasn't meant to be. An outdoor show in Edmonton's downtown core with the all-Alberta bill (all three acts originated in the same province) was extremely close to not happening — there was a "TBA" listing for months as logistics were worked out. Even in the final days, threats of rain hung over the proceedings, until the final moments of the night when the weather receded. Edmonton held out and they were duly rewarded.
First reward: confusion, charm and dare in the form of electro/glitch-pop outfit Born Gold, a band that play upbeat, screeching pop. Frontman Cecil Frena worked in enough high kicks and spins to get the crowd moving on his energy, or at least when he wasn't engaging in guitar duels with band mate Eric Cheng or twiddling knobs to launch a new wave of harsh noise. Meanwhile, Mitch Holtby was playing a scrappy percussion setup that included what appeared to be a salt shaker and several broken cymbals. Yet it all made for an enthralling show, as the group played songs from the No Sorrow video series as well as a few older songs here and there. Frena introduced a "power ballad" by noting it followed in the tradition of other great Canucks such as Celine Dion, Bryan Adams and Drake and later asked if people could throw up V signs in the air instead of lighters. Despite the antics and fun moments, these were songs with dark subject matter teeming and melancholia at their roots, but the band made them came off as a frantic combination of joy and noise.
If Born Gold were loud and exuberant, Braids were the definition of quiet storm. The trio were tight, and while each member played several instruments, the music was forceful and minimal. Drawing from their latest LP, Deep in the Iris, the songs were built up and quickly torn down only to be established again; the songs were as soaring as they were haunting, thanks to frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston's vocals, and the the rest of the band — Austin Tufts on drums and Taylor Smith on bass and keys — were just as commendable. Tufts was especially impressive during a fierce coda during which he ended up knocking some of his kit over. But the set was Standell-Preston's for the taking, and the performance's core was the passionate, no holds barred performance she threw herself into during the anthemic "Miniskirt."
Over the last few years, Purity Ring have become one of Canada's breakthrough acts, and their latest album, Another Eternity, is nudging them further and further into the stratosphere. The synth-pop duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick elected to show the hometown crowd just what they've been up to with their newly improved visual show. For one thing: the lanterns are gone, replaced by hundreds of tiny lights in curtains hanging from the ceiling. Starting with the brooding "Stranger than Earth," Megan James moved from one part of the stage to the other, hidden in slow motion while Roddick hung back and did his thing, triggering sounds and bashing cocoons with drumsticks to release melodies. It's not any different from how they've operated in the past, but there's more palpable confidence now, from James especially, who could be mistaken for a pop star by this point with her charisma and energy.
Much has been said about Another Eternity being Purity Ring's "EDM" record, but that's misleading; James' vocals, formerly hidden behind many layers of processing and effects, are brought to the forefront on the album, and the change was reflected on the stage. The songs have a brighter, maximalist edge to them, with tracks such as "Dust Hymn" and "Bodyache" bordering on anthem status. The few songs Purity Ring elected to play from their debut, Shrines, were filled out with atmospherics, but the new material was inherently massive. As great it was to hear "Lofticries" and "Belispeak" again, it was nothing like the thrilling rush from hearing the climax-raising synths in set finale "Begin Again," during which James launched herself into the hometown crowd.