At 7:30 p.m., when Whale and the Wolf stepped on stage, the cavernous Shaw Conference Centre looked like a ghost town. The impression isn’t just figurative, either; all sorts of costumed ghouls came to celebrate the 2016 Halloween Howler. Despite the sparse crowd, the four-piece Edmonton band kicked off the show with energy and passion.
Whale and the Wolf play what they describe as “erotic rock,” a mix of melodic guitar, driving bass and gritty vocals. Though there were only a dozen or so of us at the front, everyone was bobbing along to the music – even the security guards. At the opening notes of “Domino,” a girl in the crowd shouted out, “I love this song!” Later, the group’s synth-driven cover of “Beat It” had the crowd dancing and cheering. For a relatively new band, I was impressed that their sound felt so full and developed.
Their stage presence, however, still had the self-consciousness of youth. Maybe it was the affected bad boy act –the hair in the eyes, the guitarist standing on the speakers, the singer falling to the floor – that felt disingenuous. With vocalist Ryan Maier throwing out peace signs and inviting the crowd to come “drink some suds” with them after the show, the boys seemed too down-to-earth for the rock star persona. In fact, their songs are all the stronger when they’re left to breathe without the theatrics.
The band ended the night with “Man is a Wolf,” their latest single and the most synth-heavy of their tracks. When Maier announced they were filming the song’s music video, the crowd began to fill out with rowdy revellers eager to be filmed. The costumed crowd made a fitting backdrop for this sinister but funky tune, which features animalistic vocals and an eerie synth line.
As the song progressed, the band lost themselves to the music completely, succumbing to their own primal sounds. The keys, guitar, and synth played off each other, swelling and cresting with Maier’s cackling vocals. Finally, as the last notes faded out, Maier fell backwards onto the ground. The stage lights went off, and after a moment, Maier got up, thanked the crowd and walked off with the rest of the band.
Hours later, as the headlining band played their set, I marvelled at the sea of drunk and cheering people that now filled the Shaw Conference Centre. How different would Whale and the Wolf feel playing for this crowd? With a few years to settle into their sound, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them up on a similar stage, looking out on a sea of their own fans. This is an Edmonton band I’d keep an eye on.
Cover photo courtesy of Whale and the Wolf.