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The buzz is gone, so why is Wolf Parade happy?

POP MUSIC

The band has something better than tastemaker touts: fans and a Wiltern gig.

August 24, 2006|August Brown | Times Staff Writer

THE last time Montreal-based electro rockers Wolf Parade were in Southern California, they were staring down a tent packed with thousands of sweat-drenched scenesters at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and they couldn't play their instruments.

A few hours before their afternoon set, the laptop that stores nearly all of their synthesizer tones sputtered and died in the desert heat. Then, during sound check, the output jack on singer Spencer Krug's keyboard inexplicably fell silent. Amid scattered catcalls, the crowd sarcastically applauded the sound techs trying to fix everything.

When the band finally emerged, crimson from sunburn and embarrassment, they acknowledged that they'd have to play with half their instruments missing. Yet when they plunged into the jagged punk-funk guitar riffs of "It's a Curse," all seemed forgiven, and the crowd went berserk for the entirety of their set.

"It's a lot of weight on your shoulders, being expected to entertain a tent full of drunk teenagers," said keyboardist and programmer Hadji Bakara, owner of the ill-fated laptop. "I felt like an idiot."

In a way, April's disastrous Coachella set was symbolic of what might have happened to Wolf Parade after their debut full-length "Apologies to the Queen Mary" became a test study of a band surviving the hipster hype machine. Ostensibly "discovered" and signed to Sub Pop Records by Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock, Wolf Parade emerged from Montreal just as the city was crowned Most Vital Rock Scene by every magazine needing an easy trend story. They even unwittingly anticipated the year's trendiest animal reference for their band name.

All the elements of quick success and massive burnout were in order. But Wolf Parade's album of skewed, poppy post-punk stayed fresh and exhilarating even as their peers (remember the Stills, anyone?) disappeared into the indie ether.

"We came out unscathed by the backlash," Bakara said. "We were really dubious as it was happening. We thought, are we marked for disaster?

"But it's vindicating that we can play to a lot of people despite not being a buzz band anymore. We've yet to feel any hipster relapse."

The band only seems to be getting more popular as Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Stockholm overtake Montreal as this year's rock-nerd vacation spots. They're headlining the Wiltern LG, sharing marquee space with Vince Gill and Toto. There aren't enough blogging bodies in the county to fill all those seats, so the band must have pulled off the unlikely feat of outlasting their own huge buzz.

"We saw the capacity and everyone gulped," Bakara said of the Wiltern. "It seemed out of our league. But it means that we're doing something right besides a barrage of press."

AFTER this tour, the band plans to record the follow-up to "Queen Mary" in their own Mount Zoomer studios, a loft space in Montreal's arty Mile End district that they took over when Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of the Arcade Fire moved out. Given the luxuries of self-production, they've "got more time to sit and be finicky, and make it as chaotic and overdriven as it is live," Bakara said.

Chaos has long been Wolf Parade's MO. Krug also fronts the roughed-up indie outfit Sunset Rubdown and the Canadian supergroup Swan Lake with members of Destroyer and Frog Eyes. The bookish Bakara is finishing his master's in English literature at McGill University and concedes, "It's a terrifying prospect to be a touring musician for the rest of my life." But even if a future of shorted-out keyboards isn't what they want forever, at least they're handling it well now.

"We don't take it that seriously; it all feels very ephemeral and fleeting," Bakara said. "When we see a bucket of free beer, we still become wild monkeys ripping it out of each others' hands trying to get it in our bodies."

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August Brown may be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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Wolf Parade

Where: The Wiltern LG, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Price: $19

Info: (213) 380-5005

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