Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Puzzles Like You

I’ve often called Mojave 3 not only one of my favourite bands going right now, but also one of the best live acts around. This reputation has been built on their ability to make the quiet beauty of their recorded material loud and powerful onstage without compromising a bit of what makes their albums so special, which to me is a far more impressive feat than turning everything up to 11 and generally acting spastic. There’s a danger in having set the bar so high, however, as it’s inevitable that the band will eventually fail to clear it and while this past Monday night at the Mod Club wasn’t a dismantling of that reputation, it was a reminder that even the best of bands can fall victim to circumstances out of their control.

The band touring in support of their latest release, Puzzles Like You, was considerably different from the one that took the stage at Lee’s three years ago. Bassist/singer Rachel Goswell was absent as she continues to be unable to play and tour due to health issues, there was a new face in the lead guitar spot vacated by Simon Rowe since the last time out and there was no Bob Egan guesting on pedal steel this time. Goswell’s absence was most obvious and keenly felt – though her profile on the records seems to get lower with each release, her backing vocals and harmonies are still a huge part of the Mojave 3 magic. On this tour, Neil Halstead was handling vocals entirely on his own and while he’s a fantastic singer, things sounded just a little too empty solo.

Another complaint was that the fill-in players didn’t seem to have the right sensitivity for the band and the material – bassist Kevin Hendrick was way too loud and overpowering and I heard more than a couple bum notes on the night. The touring guitarist (whose name I’ve not discerned) also didn’t seem to be entirely in synch with the band, playing parts that were often simply not as good, interesting or appropriate as those written by the departed Mr Rowe. And while I’m checking off negatives, the sound at the usually reliable Mod Club was awful for at least the first part of the set, Neil’s voice mixed way too low and way too bassy. Combined with the overloud bass (which, admittedly, I was standing right in front of), the sound almost made me weep as I struggled to pick out vocals and lyrics out of the mud. Eventually I gave up and stuck my earplugs in which actually succeeded in filtering out a lot of the offending low frequencies and giving me a much more palatable mix to listen to. Things gradually improved as the show progressed, but it was still immensely frustrating.

As has been the norm on this tour, the set list drew from all points in the band’s discography as well as Neil’s solo record and even featured more songs from 1998’s Out Of Tune than from the current album. Putting aside the complaints noted above (which wasn’t that easy), the band still sounded quite good – especially on the quieter numbers when Neil played solo or with minimal backing. A few songs also got rejigged arrangements that worked quite well – “Yer Feet” as a jaunty, upbeat country tune and set closer “Bluebird Of Happiness” as a massive, sonic epic that may have been as close as I’ll get to seeing Slowdive live. By the end of the one-song encore (“My Life In Art”) the show had recovered from what seemed like a disasterous start to go into the books as good though mildly disappointing though that’s as much the fault of my own expectations as anything else. But all I will say beyond that is, “GET WELL SOON, RACHEL!”.

Opening on this tour was ex-Jayhawks drummer Tim O’Reagan who turned in a very similar set to the one he played at the Horseshoe in August – all thoughts and comments from that review still apply. If anything, it was a little tighter and more focused than that show and Jim Boquist was once again amazing to watch on guitar. They may have been a little more conventional Americana than the Mojave 3 audience may have been accustomed to but still went over pretty well.

In addition to the media linkage below, also check out the live KCRW session I posted this weekend if you didn’t see it – ripped courtesy of So Much Silence, they sound fantastic.

Photos: Mojave 3, Tim O’Reagan @ The Mod Club – October 16, 2006
MP3: Mojave 3 – “Puzzles Like You”
MP3: Mojave 3 – “Breaking The Ice”
Stream: Tim O’Reagan – “These Things” (ASX)
Video: Mojave 3 – “Breaking The Ice” (YouTube)
MySpace: Mojave 3
MySpace: Tim O’Reagan

The Winnipeg Sun talks about life in The Sadies with drummer Mike Belitsky. Note that in addition to In Concert, Volume One, another new Sadies record was released this year – they scored the film Tales Of The Rat Fink and the soundtrack is 26 tracks of surf-tacular instrumental madness with only one clocking in at over 2 minutes long. Perfect for the ADD Sadies fan on your Christmas list.

Jenny Lewis talks to The St Petersburg Times. NPR has a radio session with Lewis up to download and check back on Thursday evening when NPR will broadcast a Wilco show from DC live to air at around 10PM EST. And also at NPR – an interview with Billy Bragg about his just-released Volume Two box set as well as his book The Progressive Patriot. And on that note, Bragg gives The Guardian a list of ten books about Englishness.

Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers tells Chart he really likes playing the Horseshoe in Toronto. Pity he’s at the Phoenix tonight.

A note to any overzealous Wilco fans thinking about pulling a stage invasion at one of their shows to give Jeff a hug? Don’t do it – he is not afraid of you and he will beat your ass.

Some shows of note – Winnipeg pop explosion Paper Moon are at the Rivoli on October 3, Vancouver country shitkickers Blood Meridian are at the Horseshoe November 9 and Sean Ono Lennon plays the Opera House on December 13. Yes, he uses the “Ono” in his name, just in case you weren’t perfectly clear who his parents were. Pfft.

np – Portastatic / Be Still Please

By : Frank Yang at 9:05 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Dimitri says:

    Hi Frank,

    Once again – many thanks for the passes. Given that was my first time seeing Mojave 3 live and I didn’t know what to expect, I left the Mod Club very happy. The sound was dreadful though – for the first five songs we were only getting bass and keyboards with little to no Neil’s singing. It did improve towards the middle of the set, but yes – earplugs helped… All in all still – a great night, I’m definitely looking to see them again soon!


  2. bozairzere says:

    I hear ya on the Mojave front Frank. Saw them here in LA and it just wasn’t the same as all the other tours. Wasn’t into the reworking of Yer Feet myself, but Bluebird…WAS great. Take care.