By: Winona Forever, Head Staff Writer
The crowd for the Winona Forever was a sea of lanky twenty-somethings, tousled hair, high-waisted denim, and people more hip than you.
Winona Forever is a Vancouver founded band that recently moved to Montreal, where they are now based. They recently released their sophomore album, Feelgood, on June 7. On Saturday, June 29, they hosted an all ages album release party at the Russian Hall, sharing the stage with a few other local bands.
The evening began with the Austin-native band, TC Superstar. The lead singer and dancers ended their show on a high note with a choreographed dance to their insanely infectious “Toyota Corolla“ in matching outfits (think pink T-shirts and tiny shorts). Hailey Blais followed the band with a few stirring ballads with her powerhouse vocals, balancing a delicate voice with strong, strung-out notes. Finally, Yung Heazy opened their set with a Beatles cover, “Because,” and proceeded to rock out and even bring audience members up to dance with them.
When Winona Forever arrived onstage, I was expecting them to match the theatricality of all their openers. I was wrong — but that wasn’t actually a bad thing. Their toned-down stage performance worked in their favour to make them stand out in a different way from their fellow performers.
Feelgood may not have as many quirky little track titles as their first album, This is Fine., but the lyrics are just as offbeat and whimsical. On the album’s lead single and arguably best track, “Keep Kool,” we see Winona Forever’s strengths as a band: smooth, almost ghostlike vocals, steady beats, and sweet electric guitar riffs. The song kickstarts the album with Ben Robertson singing cool vocals about his anxious and fumbling self against a bubbly, almost elevator-pop sound.
Winona Forever is also truly by and for twenty-somethings. Lyrics like “I drop whatever I’m doing / At first chance of you sending an adorable dog pic / Don’t have a clue what I am doing / More than half the time, at least Google can help me rhyme,” epitomize the anxiety-tinged thoughts of Millennial flirting. Another highlight on the album was “Heads or Tails,” a dynamic track, full of shy yet hopeful lyrics, chill vocals, and what I can only describe as an ambitious use of the oboe.
It’s clear that in Feelgood, Winona Forever have honed in on their sound — murmured vocals, eclectic, twinkling guitar riffs, and soft but steady-as-hell beats.
Onstage at the Russian Hall, visually, the band was striking. None of the band members shared a single colour in their outfits. But when it came to music, all were synchronized. They started the show with their first track from This is Fine.: “Shrek ~ Chic,” guitars roaring to life. But for all of the energy and life their music breathed into the air, the band members remained laid-back and relaxed onstage.
Aside from the anomaly of the moshpit (which included crowd-surfing at some point!), it was clear that the audience and Winona Forever were all there for one thing and one thing only: good music.
The concert swept through most of their new album, including great tracks like “Joyride” and “Gazing.” However, the setlist also included some of the more lacklustre tracks from their new album, like “Ruckus,” “5alive,” and “Happy Day.” After a certain point, the groovy guitar riffs and soft vocals blurred together, and made for some unmemorable tracks.
But even for the mixed-bag song choices, the band ended on a high note with their lead single, “Keep Kool.” And after many chants from the audience, they even returned to the stage to play their most popular track, “Hedges,” a track that demands vocals and a scattered attention span and that Robertson complained about briefly.
“No one ever write a song that high; it’s a bad idea,” Robertson laughed.
Overall, even if Winona Forever may lack stage theatrics as performers, they are a band of musicians, not performers. And that’s OK. And despite the too-cool indie concertgoers, there was still a mosh pit had attendees with nothing but bright smiles on their faces. It’s clear the band is beloved by all.
Vancouver gems like Winona Forever remind us to shower your local bands with love before they decide to head east for affordable housing. But at least they’ll still come back to visit and play some groovy sets.