By Will Reisman
Special to the Examiner
Like many great stories, the tale of how Wolf Parade became one of the most influential indie rock bands of this century can be traced back to a decidedly inauspicious beginning.
Before teaming up to become an unstoppable, inscrutable songwriting tandem, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner first crossed paths not at a music conservatory or at a famous underground rock club, but in the dingy kitchen of a fish fry restaurant in the small Canadian city of Victoria.
“We both worked at a place called Bent Mast when we were basically kids,” said Krug, whose band will play at August Hall on Sunday, May 22. “We had to gut calamari together, and we got to know each other. Dan was just this sarcastic and cynical guy who really resonated with me. We started talking about our favorite music and about forming a band one day. That’s basically where it all started.”
After getting his fill of fish and chips at the Bent Mast (which is still open, offering clam chowder for $10), Krug moved to Montreal, hoping to draw nearer to that city’s buzzing local music scene, which at the time included young upstart bands like Arcade Fire, the Unicorns and the Dears. Boeckner followed about a year later, and from there, the two laid the foundation for what would be the group’s seminal debut album, “Apologies to the Queen Mary.”
A strange amalgamation of scratchy, working-class post-punk sounds and cerebral, proggy musings, “Apologies to the Queen Mary” set the tone for the indie renaissance of the 2000s, when bands sloughed off past limitations to explore sounds that combined both electronic music and traditional rock leanings. For many people of a certain age (including this writer), the album was a defining moment of the eccentricity and artistic daring of that era, and as a testament to its enduring impact, the band will be playing the record in full at August Hall and its other West Coast dates.
“When COVID kind of obliterated everything, we really didn’t know when we would all get back onstage together,” said Krug. “Because with this band, where everyone is busy all the time, there was a chance we might never play again. So, when the idea came up to play ‘Apologies,’ we all thought that it would be a neat way to reintroduce the band and get back into things.”
Released in 2005 on the venerable Pacific Northwest record label Sub Pop, “Apologies to the Queen Mary” was laden with hype and expectations, reflective of the height of the powers for the bygone music blog era. Wolf Parade had released two EPs to universal acclaim, “Apologies” was being produced by Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock, and the band’s association with the newly famous Arcade Fire led to a perfect storm of outsized hype. Shockingly, the band exceeded those otherworldly expectations.
Immediately hailed as a masterpiece by taste making sites like Pitchfork (which awarded the album a 9.2 rating), the album showcased the dual universes of Krug, a cerebral, erudite piano player, and Boeckner, a raspy, heart-on-sleeve guitarist. Krug said he had an idea that people would be interested in the album, but he had no inkling that it would still hold such reverence nearly two decades after its release.
“I think that people were like, ‘This must be something cool if Isaac is involved.’ But beyond that, I had no idea how it would be received,” said Krug. “It’s not that I thought the record was bad, I just didn’t think that people would gravitate to this kind of kooky, noisy, weird, arty thing.”
The album may be noisy and kooky at times, but thanks to the deft touches of Krug, it is strangely accessible and imminently listenable. Take, for example, the titanic opener, “You a Runner and I am My Father’s Son,” marked by drummer Arlen Thompson’s thunderous bass kicks and Krug’s forceful, syncopated piano movements. Its immediate and precise opening moments dissolve into an unnerving deluge of feedback and static, as Krug’s yawping voice blends into a haze of dissonance. It’s the sound of a building collapsing over and again, but the immediacy and ambition of the track makes you want to take part in the demolition.
Other highlights from the album include “Grounds for Divorce,” a rampaging punk number filled with spiky guitars and Krug’s evocative lyrics detailing the breakdown of a relationship, and “Dinner Bells,” an airy spacerock jam that floats uneasily in the ether — evoking an impending thunderstorm. On each of those tracks, Krug’s trademark yowl acts as the North Star, providing an emotive and plaintive anchor (and contrasting with the gruff delivery of Boeckner whose Springsteen-esque bark motors anthems like “This Heart’s on Fire” and “Shine a Light”).
And then there is “I’ll Believe in Anything,” the undeniable beating heart of the album. Arriving late to the party at track number nine, the song is nonetheless the towering magnum opus of “Apologies to the Queen Mary” — a generational listen akin to “Born to Run” or “Bastards of Young.” A rollicking synth rock piece with maniacal drum play, whirring background noises and power chords aplenty, the song starts off brazen and just becomes more bold, climaxing with Krug’s defiant statement of self-reproachment, “Nobody knows you!/And nobody gives a damn!”
Krug said he originally wrote that genre-defining creation as a quiet piano ballad for his other band, Sunset Rubdown (a now-defunct group that put out three flawless albums), but it quickly turned into something different under the collective input of the group.
“It doesn’t even make for a good solo piano song, but it translated really well to Wolf Parade,” said Krug. “We didn’t know necessarily that it would be a hit or anything — it’s kind of buried in the album. But for some reason, it really resonated with people, and onstage it’s really fun to play because it starts big and ends fast.”
When the band revisits that classic at August Hall, the performance will be extra special, as the original four members of the group that recorded “Apologies to the Queen Mary,” will be playing together for one of the first times in years. Synth player Hadji Bakara, who left the band shortly after the supporting tour to pursue a career in academia, will be stepping aside from his current jobs as a professor at the University of Michigan to perform live with the band.
“The four of us haven’t been in a room together in easily more than a decade,” said Krug. “We keep in touch of course, but it has been so long since we played together. I can’t wait to be onstage with them all again.”
IF YOU GO:
Where: August Hall, 420 Mason Street, S.F.
When: 8 p.m., Sunday, May 22
Contact: (415) 872-5745, www.augusthallsf.com