Published Oct 27, 2019While best known for his distinctive caterwaul and energetic performances as part of Wolf Parade, Vancouver Island native Spencer Krug saves his biggest displays of passion for the piano. While Krug has played keys for the likes of Islands and Destroyer, his skills as a pianist have only been seen thus far on his releases as Moonface, a project that ended last year with the colossal This One's for The Dancer and This One's for the Dancer's Bouquet. While his performance at Halifax Pop Explosion provided some evidence for what post-Moonface Krug will sound like, the set — performed entirely on grand piano — felt mostly like a retrospective for the works released under this recently retired stage name.
Setting the stage for the early evening set was Toronto's beloved Charlotte Cornfield, who started her short set with deep vulnerability. Her eyes were closed or downcast at the piano keys, she opened with her introspective track "June" from this year's The Shape of Your Name. Cornfield let lines like "I just want to hold you in my human arms" flutter out, meekly. Just as her casual overalls brought a human edge to the austere grand piano she played, her trepidatious banter made the conviction of her performance all the more striking. She mumbled, "we'll see how this goes" before a new song about a transient friendship that left the crowd transfixed.
Cornfield was as open between songs as she was during them. At one point, she discussed the dubious way in which parents met while living in Halifax, grinning, "I've never told that one on stage before." With spacey electric guitar arrangements made even more roomy by the cavernous church hall, Cornfield made an impression in only a matter of songs.
It was ten minutes past his time slot when Krug bolted on stage from the wings. Wiping sweat from his face, he admitted to just arriving from his hotel room, to some sympathetic laughs from the audience. "I think I'm going to start," he said, pausing to catch his breath. "Okay, I'm going to start."
Krug dove into "Love The House You're In" from 2013's Julia With Blue Jeans On to begin, swaying back and forth on the piano bench while his fingers scurried across the keys. Each line was delivered with intense vibrato — always threatening to lose control, but never doing so — and featured deep, animalistic breathing throughout. This may have been partially due to the intensity with which Krug hammered out piano chords on pieces like "Barbarian," and the way he gesticulated wildly with his right arm whenever it had a break from plucking out a melody. It was a full body performance; it sometimes looked as though closed-eyed Krug was channelling a spirit.
Krug's intensity was appropriate for most of his open-hearted and blunt pieces, such as on a new song in which he snarled, "your bed looked like a butcher's block, and you liked it better when I was on top." However, when each piece stretched beyond the six-minute mark, this intensity lost some of its impact, failing to balance out with much-needed tenderness. The few moments of clarity in the set — such as the life-affirming middle passage of "Julia With Blue Jeans On" — were what felt particularly touching.
For such a seasoned performer and dazzling pianist, the uncertainty of the set was surprising. Though Krug played for over an hour, he left pauses between songs where he reassured the crowd that they did not need to be so quiet, even though it was a church ("nothing sacred is happening here"); complained about the heat of the stage lights; and simply stared at the keys — at one point uttering, "I'm just looking for where this one starts." After committing to play a fan's song request as an encore, Krug paused, hesitated, waited, and then just said, "fuck it, I'm playing the new one," a Cheshire grin on his face.
Regardless of the unorthodoxy of his set, Krug demonstrated — especially in his newer, more experimental pieces — his power as a performer, and his individuality as a songwriter. It's hypnotizing, frenetic, and — when it yanks you in just right — deeply impactful.