Monday, December 31st, 2007

To Fix The Gash In Your Head

To close out 2007, wrap-ups of my Friday and Saturday nights, aka the final shows of the year for me. We’ll start with Saturday.

Night four of the Drake Hotel’s “What’s In The Box?” year-end series of shows could have been subtitled: “Loud, With Guitars”. And that further subdivided into two – “As Improvisational Tool” and “As Blunt Instrument”.

Kicking off the first portion was Love, Anna, a local five-piece whom I couldn’t figure out if they actually had pre-written songs or were making it up as they went. If the former, they only had the barest skeletons of songs because watching them onstage, it was obvious there was a heavy ad-libbed component to what they were doing, with each player coming in one by one and lots of exchanged looks, nods and occasional “this is the chord I’m playing” guitar neck waves. But however prepared they were, they did produce some interesting tunes that maintained a rough pop structure and never straying into aimless jam territory and for that, they should be commended.

And if Love, Anna were the model of discipline, then Dundas were the polar opposite of that. Nominally a two-piece with drums and guitar, they played this show with a fellow named Koushik on Moog and from the get-go, they were a mess. Out of key and out of time, they either couldn’t hear each other or simply weren’t bothering to listen because every “song” – and I use the term loosely – was just a lurching mess of a Frankenstein’s monster. Really one of the more painful sets I’ve ever sat through.

That was the end of the “we don’t need songs” portion of the evening, with The Two Koreas happily stepping up to force things back into sharp focus. A fixture on the Toronto scene for a while now, they specialize in loud, forceful, punk-in-spirit rock music in the style of The Fall, complete with verbose, shouty lyrics from frontman (and local music scribe) Stuart Berman who put lie to the old saying, “those who can do, those who can’t write” with an energetic, engaging and effective stage presence. I couldn’t rightly tell one song from the next but they were just the thing to get my attention back from the video screens on either side of the room showing scenes from the Wonder Woman TV show and Breakin’.

It’d been some time since I’d seen Fjord Rowboat live, at least not since they released their debut album Saved The Compliments For Morning earlier this year. And it seems that since then, they’ve decided that the dreampop vein they’d been mining wasn’t quite as loud or as psychedelic as they’d wanted because they seemed considerably louder and more psychedelic than I remembered. They’ve also amped up the energy of their live show, with singer Craig Gloster knocking over his keyboard several times in the course of the set between doing jumping jacks and otherwise beating the tar out of his tambourine. With their heavy, swirling sound and matching visuals thanks to the video now being projected onto the band (and the screen behind), Fjord set the stage quite nicely for the final act of the night.

New York City’s A Place To Bury Strangers played Toronto once before earlier in the Summer – also with Fjord Rowboat – in a show that was lightly attended but spoken of reverentially by those who were there as a spectacle of smoke, strobes and bludgeoning volume. Since then, the word’s gotten out some about the alleged “loudest band in New York” and the room was fairly packed as the trio took the stage (though I can only guess that their smoke machines weren’t working properly as there was hardly any fog in the room). While their self-titled debut is a cyborg sort of record with drum machines and industrially-effected guitars giving it a mechanical quality, live they’re a straight power trio and that makes the ruthless precision of their attack that much more impressive.

Though the vocals were largely lost in their My Bloody Ministry-ish din, the strength of their songs still came across through it all. And while they were definitely loud, it wasn’t as much about the sheer volume of their attack as the fact that it was the just the right frequency range that was turned up to inflict maximum aural damage. My sympathies to anyone in attendance without proper hearing protection. And just when you thought it was intense as it could get, they hit the strobe lights and things just went stupid. What had been something of a surgical attack turned into brute sonic bludgeoning that could have lasted five minutes as easily as it could have been an hour. Between the noise and the strobes, that was two of five senses rendered ineffective and that tends to distort one’s ability to track time.

It was just nuts.

Photos: A Place To Bury Strangers, Fjord Rowboat, The Two Koreas, Dundas, Love, Anna @ The Drake Underground – December 29, 2007
MP3: A Place To Bury Strangers – “To Fix The Gash In Your Head”
MP3: A Place To Bury Strangers – “I Know I’ll See You”
MP3: A Place To Bury Strangers – “My Weakness”
MP3: Fjord Rowboat – “Carried Away”
MP3: Fjord Rowboat – “Paragon”
Video: A Place To Bury Strangers – “I Know I’ll See You”
Video: Fjord Rowboat – “Carried Away”
MySpace: A Place To Bury Strangers
MySpace: Fjord Rowboat

The night previous was also spent at the Drake, though not in the Underground where Morlocks such as I usually dwell, but in the main floor Lounge. Jenn Grant had been booked into the space and since I’d missed all opportunities to see her perform this year, catching her in (almost) the place I first saw her last year was an appealing idea. Unfortunately, as it turns out the Drake Lounge is maybe the worst place you could possibly see someone perform as it’s really less a lounge than a restaurant and as such, the patrons were largely diners first, concertgoers second (if at all). As a result, Grant had to perform overtop lots of talking and general dinner noise (dishes, glasses, etc) as well as dodge waiters carrying drink and meals and whatnot.

And while I was more than frustrated enough by the setting for her, Grant handled it with grace and aplomb. Commenting that she felt like the lounge singer in Lost In Translation (though without the hooking up with Bill Murray part), she rolled out songs from her lovely debut Orchestra For The Moon as well as a few choice covers – both Wham! and Patsy Cline were represented – and some new material, accompanied on a couple by Justin Rutledge. I look forward to hearing her play again in a setting a little more sympathetic to the performer though I’d like to think that at least one person that night went in planning on just having a martini but left with a CD. And a martini.

Oh, and I forgot my camera battery so no pics. Alas.

MP3: Jenn Grant – “Dreamer”
Video: Jenn Grant – “Dreamer” (YouTube)
MySpace: Jenn Grant

And that’s 2007, kids. Thanks for visiting, have a safe New Year’s Eve and I’ll see you in the ’08.

By : Frank Yang at 8:16 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Steve says:

    Love your strobe shot!

    I’m the other photog you were talking to throughout PS

  2. barclay says:

    frank! can’t believe you were at the drake that night and didn’t catch any thunderheist! seriously, one of the best live acts in toronto. congrats, though, on another ridiculously prolific year.

  3. Frank says:

    if I had a functioning camera I might have stuck around but I was pretty bagged (oh the weight of a two-day work week) so I was just as happy to go home and sleep.

    But I will take the recommendation and try to catch them another time.