Monday, February 11th, 2008

Back Numbers

The co-headline tour must be a tricky proposition. The “co-” implies that the acts are of an equal stature and that one should take no higher billing than the other, but pragmatically when it comes to showtime, someone opens and someone closes. When the Keren Ann/Dean and Britta tour was initially announced, it was Ms Zeidel who appeared to be getting the nod as far as getting to pick songs for an encore but as Saturday night’s date at the Mod Club drew near, listings appeared to flip the order and give Mr and Mrs Luna the top billing, possibly causing issues for people planning out their evening. For me, it was academic. Though I thought it a bit of an odd pairing, it worked for me and I was there well early enough to catch the whole show, whatever the order.

As it happened, Keren Ann took the stage first. I’d lost track of her since seeing her in 2006 2005 in support of her English-language debut (and third album overall) Not Going Anywhere, a beguilingly low-key blend of folk and jazz with some dashes of rock thrown in for flavour that I don’t listen to nearly as much as it deserves. In the interim, she’s released two more albums – 2004’s Nolita and last year’s self-title – and, based on Saturday’s set, discovered her inner rocker. Fear not – her inner rocker looks and awful lot like her inner folkie, just wielding a big, hollowbody electric guitar for a few numbers that rather suited her. Also very complimentary was her band, consisting of an electric guitarist/bassist and drummer that was a far cry from the two-piece acoustic/keyboard configuration I saw her with last time. That extra musical oomph, coupled with her beautifully breathy voice, turned what I had expected to be a pleasant performance into a rather stunning one. If this is the direction she’s taken her recordings in, then I have some catching up to do.

The last time Dean & Britta came to Toronto in March 2007 was also the first time and for myself and presumably other Toronto Luna fans, a real occasion. For part of the reason for Luna’s dissolution was Dean Wareham’s weariness of life on the road so I never really expected any proper touring to occur, let alone make it up here. There was also the question of how much of Wareham’s musical legacy would be acknowledged and if it was, how would it sound without Sean Eden and Lee Wall? The answer to these questions was “lots” and “just fine” and with that show, the spectre of Luna (and to a lesser extent Galaxie 500) was essentially exorcised (lovingly so) and Dean and Britta were free to be Dean & Britta.

My thoughts previously about it being an odd pairing with Keren Ann proved completely off base as D&B’s languorous, Euro-flavoured retro pop exists very much in the same dimension as Keren Ann’s in a way that Luna’s guitar-centric rock never did. Welcome to the present, I guess. So while the show opened with a shot of G500’s “Snowstorm” and Luna’s “Moon Palace” made an appearance three songs in, the bulk of the set didn’t make the same efforts to straddle all of Wareham’s career and the delivery was pure Dean & Britta. Appropriately, there were far fewer guitar solos than last time and the songs and set were much more compact, though that may have been due more to the looming curfew than any aesthetic choice. Wareham also took more lead vocals than last time and handled the bulk of the banter, picking out familiar faces in the crowd, commenting on films (he didn’t like Juno). plugging his forthcoming book (Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance – out March 13!) and generally seeming more at ease than I can recall ever seeing him. A fine show and if the vibe eleven months ago was that of the return of the long-lost prodigal son, this show felt more like an old friend stopping by for a visit. Can’t wait for next time.

The Westender talks to Wareham about his band, his book and film scores while The Weekly Dig features Keren Ann. And while Zoilus was a bit of a victim of the shifting lineup/set-times, he came for the Keren Ann but stayed for the D&B.

Photos: Dean & Britta, Keren Ann @ The Mod Club – February 9, 2008
MP3: Dean & Britta – “Words You Used To Say”
MP3: Dean & Britta – “Singer Sing”
MP3: Keren Ann – “Not Going Anywhere”
Video: Dean & Britta – “Words You Used To Say”
Video: Dean & Britta – “Night Nurse”
Video: Dean & Britta – “Knives From Bavaria”
Video: Keren Ann – “Lay Your Head Down”
Video: Keren Ann – “Chelsea Burns”
Video: Keren Ann – “Not Going Anywhere”
MySpace: Dean & Britta
MySpace: Keren Ann

Cutesiness abounds as Uberdrivel interviews Los Campesinos! (Hold On Now, Youngster… out April 1) and Music Snobbery chats with Tilly & The Wall (untitled third album due June 3).

Stephin Merritt talks to The Boston Globe about The Magnetic Fields’ Distortion.

The Age discusses White Chalk with PJ Harvey.

PopMatters asks Robyn Hitchcock 20 questions. Robyn Hitchcock gives PopMatters 20 answers.

By : Frank Yang at 8:30 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Thierry says:

    That last time you saw Keren Ann was in 2005, not 2006, wasn’t it? In any case, both acts were great on Saturday, and D&B’s cover of "We’re Not Supposed to Be Lovers" showed that Wareham still has a knack for picking the unexpected song that will fit his sound perfectly.

  2. Scott says:

    Also – as a newsbite for anyone interested – British Sea Power have just revealed their Eastern North American dates (according to the BSP forum):

    15 May La Sala Rossa Montreal, Quebec
    16 May Lee’s Palace Toronto, Ontario

    There are the important ones. Haven’t confirmed, but I know there are some fans about these parts…

  3. barclay says:

    I can’t recommend Keren Ann’s 2005 album Nolita enough. I’m still shocked that it was slept on as much as it was. At the risk of faint praise by way of pointing out all-too-obvious influences, it sounded like my favourite Cowboy Junkies, Suzanne Vega, Anna Domino, Feist and Velvet Underground records all rolled into one. The self-titled 2007 one is creepier (with Icelandic choirs) and at times, as you point out, rockier. And she must record her vocals in the wee hours, because live she’s much less wispy. Wish I could have made it out to this–I’m a D&B newbie.

  4. Frank says:

    Thierry – and my winning streak continues. Yeah, it was 2005 and I actually went and specifically looked up the date before writing that.

    Scott – yeah, that’s the date I was told and of course, that’s the day that I leave for (or more like arrive in) Dublin. It will be a bitching show.

    Michael – I’m seeking that one out. I listened to "Not Going Anywhere" first thing Sunday morning and it was perfect.

  5. Thierry says:

    Another Keren Ann recommendation: you should seek out Lady & Bird, an album that she recorded with Icelandic songwriter Bardi Johansson. It is a bit less straightforward than Not Going Anywhere (it includes some strange vocal effects and sinister instrumental pieces, and claims to be a "fairytale for adults") and makes for a good transition between that album and her darker work on Nolita and the self-titled cd. It’s also notable for exquisitely sad covers of the Velvet Underground’s "Stephanie Says" and "Suicide Is Painless" (the theme from M.A.S.H.).

  6. Roland says:

    Thanks for the plug!

  7. James says:

    Just a note that eMusic has the Los Campesinos! full-length release available now, well before the April 1st street date for the physical plastic thing.