Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner step on stage in Toronto like they're strolling into a close friend’s living room. They take their places behind their respective instruments, and immediately Lee’s Palace fills with that intimate clash of snare, hi-hat, and kick. It’s as if they just stepped away for a sec to have a smoke.
“I’ve got a number on me,” Spencer bellows. Tears start streaming down the faces of people on either side of me. And then we’re experiencing, live, “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son.” It’s a thing we weren’t sure we’d ever have the chance to see again.
The last time I caught Wolf Parade was in April 2010, in Fredericton, New Brunswick’s farmer’s market. I was about to graduate with an undergrad in English Lit, and Wolf Parade was about to release Expo 86. (Much to my joy, photos from that show later became the album art for the Expo vinyl). Chances are the tear-stained people around me have similar stories. Or if they don't, they wish they did.
Wolf Parade announced an indefinite hiatus at the end of November, 2010. And so, when they announced in January that they were back, gradually rolled out tour dates, and released their new EP 4, diehard fans felt like a long-lost yet still-dreamed-for lover had returned.
For many of us in the crowd, Wolf Parade were the ones who got away. We know we’ve been given a chance to relive the past.
It works for them, though, and it’s clear they’re going to gift us with the crucial songs from both Apologies to the Queen Mary and Expo. Krug’s eyes are closed; he plays from muscle memory. Boeckner’s bangs obscure his entire face, like they always have. People around me cover their mouths and their hearts. I can’t stop thrashing my body around even though it’s kind of taboo at a show like this. (Everyone knows white people at Toronto shows operate on a strictly-enforced code of Never Moving A Muscle). A few others do dance tonight, but most appear spellbound.
For many of us in the crowd, Wolf Parade were the ones who got away. Most of us are in our mid-to-late twenties and thirties, and this band supported us through and raised us out of our final years of youthful angst. When they went on hiatus, no one could fill that void. Both singers did have other bands, which we doggedly followed. We still had, at various points, Handsome Furs, Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, Divine Fits, Operators. But it wasn’t the same, and despite what many of us saw as their 2010 betrayal, we never stopped tramping around with Apologies ringing in our earbuds. Nothing in music is quite as serendipitous as the co-leads’ intermingling brands of ghoul.
And it is a satanic night. Lee’s is awash in red and purple light. Though so different, both singers’ voices carry a macabre echo. I’m here with friends who were alongside me at that 2010 show, and we know we’ve been given a chance to relive the past. About a third of the way through the show, we get a miracle.
“This song was dead to me,” Krug tells us. “I said I would never play it again. Then I got old, and now I don’t care anymore.” He proceeds to launch into “Grounds for Divorce,” playing with one of his legs bent back in the air. At the end of the song, he clasps his hands in front of his face in prayer and bows his head a little toward us.
It takes 'til now for them to play the first song from EP4, “Automatic.” The crowd throws itself into this latest offering, supporting it even more than the old bangers the unlikely-looking duo opened with. The robotic beeping and booping of the synth insists on showing itself throughout this song (and through the EP as a whole), but it doesn’t have a strong a presence as it did in Expo 86. The songs they play off this EP are more like a continuation of Apologies, which means they're impossible for the crowd not to like.
It's here I realize the show is the experience I had been hoping for, but I’m left wondering: as Krug and Boeckner start to get comfortable making music together again, will they move past what they've already done and invent something new again?
At the end of the night, when the lights come up, we can’t bring ourselves to leave. We loiter amongst the discarded beer bottles and other debris, rehashing the show. Boeckner ambles out to chat with someone, and we go over to say hi. He wears a cord around his neck with a two-faced pendant dangling from it. On one side, a lady in black. On the other side, she appears in bright colours. He wants us to know that this is La Santa Muerte, saint of death. This is the only saint, he stresses, to whom one can turn to seek ill-will against another.
We leave like children having just been read a bedtime story, with the warm sense that it might be possible for some things to remain the same.