Sensory Overload: Van Dale, Bella Ruse and more highlight Sunday afternoon at ComFest

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From the July 3, 2014 edition

The ComFest attitude might have best been summed up by the inflatable-guitar-wielding toddler painted up like a member of Kiss and head-banging to the jazzy sonic excursions of Honk, Wail and Moan.

During the four hours I spent wandering the grounds of Goodale Park Sunday afternoon, sights and sounds continually bled together, ramshackle second line parades weaving past patchouli-scented drum circles, and genres as diverse as jazz, spoken-word, rock and reggae peacefully coexisting mere steps away.

With the high noon sun beating down, the Lisa Webster Duo stepped cautiously through an elegant set of jazz-flecked ballads, Webster stretching and elongating words with learned grace. Across the park, Surf’s Up Hose Down bashed its way through a surprisingly invigorating set of acid-surf, swinging from melodic numbers that conjured images of a serene beachside retreat to rowdier turns that crashed on the shore like foamy ocean waves. All would have fit perfectly on the score to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”

With dark clouds gathering overhead (unlike Saturday, which was called early due to weather, these storms threatened but never hit), the eternally chill Hebdo eased into an earthy set that flirted with jazz, folk and soft-rock. Though the music itself remained generally upbeat, the characters in the singer’s songs occasionally walked a more shadowy path. “See how I misbehave,” he cooed on one tune, his words giving off the same sense of mischief as the Cheshire Cat’s wide grin.

While Hebdo exuded monk-like tranquility, Van Dale singer/guitarist Joe Camerlengo appeared to be on the verge of falling to pieces at all times. Rather than singing, he screamed, bleated and howled his words, and the characters in his songs sounded similarly torn asunder, wracked with grief and trying desperately to make sense of their beleaguered station in life. Rather than moping, however, Camerlengo and Co. took these frustrations out on their instruments, bashing through an assortment of loud-soft-LOUD tunes that veered into the red without ever completely eschewing a sense of melody.

Bella Ruse followed with a stirring turn that married a danceable electro-pop backdrop to opera-trained singer Kay Gillette’s frequently shattered words. “Here’s what I know about pain so far,” she offered on the duo’s opening number, and the remainder of the songs fittingly served as a how-to guide on recovering from heartbreak.