by carl wilson

This Modern Love
Never Did Run Smooth

Members of the St. Kitts String 4tet, with Final Fantasy on Wed. night. Photo by Suckingalemon.

Well-tempered (heh) review here of Wednesday night's Over the Top Festival launch with Great Lake Swimmers, Akron/Family and Final Fantasy w/ Laura Barrett & the St Kitts String Quartet. I wasn't sure whether I'd post about it, but the mood is upon me now.

I know much of the audience loved A/F, but my feeling at the end was "not enough Akron, too much family" - that is, no keen sharp unsentimental vision a la Devo, no greasy machine parts, and too much clannish drum-circle testosterone-sweaty boy bonding. I like the pretty-melody/galumphing-noise-racket dyad as much if not more than most people - it's probably the formula for most of my favourite music - but A/F's better songs don't sustain the meandering, self-expressive emoting stuff. They just lose me. I admire their energy and I suspect a lot of the younger folk at this all-ages show were seeing a kind of free-form spontaneity that could serve as an inspiration to liberation, but I felt like the final (badly staged) midfloor singalong about "freeing the colours of space" or whatever summed up too much of the conceptual weakness and self-flattery of the band. I enjoyed some of their post-prog rocking-out, though, and one singer has a very beguiling voice, so I'm not dismissing them. Just expressing my impatience, especially with their disregard for their given stage time, which put Final Fantasy in a tough spot as the evening had worn on excessively. Great Lake Swimmers played gorgeously, with Tony Dekker's voice seemingly descending in mist from an unseen cloud cluster rather than from his lungs or chest... And the Final Fantasy set, including a seat-of-the-pants-luscious harpsichord duet with Laura Barrett on Robot Ponies and the closing cover of Bloc Party's This Modern Love, was terrific, both for what clicked (especially the new rearrangements of Has a Good Home cuts with the St. Kitts String Quartet, for whom the mix was unfortunately a little thin compared to last summer's semi-legendary Music Gallery show) and for the daring adventures that didn't (primarily, the harpsichord having gone inevitably out of tune in the sweltering packed hall). What detracted from the experience was, unfortunately, Owen's obvious frustration with the technical problems - which led him to keep giving the audience signals that he felt the show was horrible, which clashed heavily with our collective feeling that we were having a grand time.

Sometimes those old-fashioned showbiz virtues really are virtues. If you're going to keep telling the audience "this sucks shit," better that you stomp off stage in a huff and leave us with a story to tell. Otherwise we're left feeling, "Wait, am I some kind of patsy to be enjoying this?" Owen is ultimately too charming for things to get ugly - and he rescued the mood by the end - but it did get awkward. The path of the risk-taking perfectionist, as Vit Wagner says in that review, is a hard gravel road - still, it's the path to glory too. (I was telling O.P. afterwards about Pere Ubu's patented "Reality Dub" method, in which they amp up the mood at shows by more-or-less faking an onstage disaster, stopping in mid-song so David Thomas can throw a tantrum - and then start again at the absolute peak of their rocking abilities, simulating a miraculous recovery, all just to get the audience's adrenaline up - and also to provide camouflage for any genuine disasters that might take place...)

Graham disagrees with me about Akron/Family vs. FF. And cover-version king Copy, Right? has video of a different performance of Owen's Bloc Party number, with drums by (I think?) semi-official "second Fantasy" Leon Taheny Jan Phillip Janzen (?). I do adore covers that rescue songs from renditions I find too coarse or poppy, and allow me to appreciate their occluded emotional force.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, January 13 at 4:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)


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Posted by BcqPzQolUf on January 27, 2006 7:52 PM



tuning is overrated. the rolling stones proved this a long time ago (just as they proved the compatibility of rock with the instrument of couperin and scarlatti.) it's not as if Mr. Fantasy is playing Bach, after all. maybe he's dabbling in microtones. or in humidity-influenced chance music. these subgenres are all the rage at the moment, i am told.

Posted by marco on January 16, 2006 9:04 AM



Akron/Family's disregard for their timeslot would have been terrible if they had not captured the crowd, or at least the crowd around where I was. Everyone around me on had broken out of their arm crossed, chin scratching buffalo stance and had grins plastered across their faces, if not were completely balls outrocking out. The communal aspect of the band - to interpret your words, their self flattery - worked ... if we attempt to think through their "conceptual weakness" I think everyone (me included) could find a billion things "wrong" with their (over long) set. But, the concept itself demands that we do not demand, that we do not question the cocept because we should all be too busy captured with the campfire-punk aesthetic.

It was akward when watching Final Fantasy, especially during the middle of his set when the harpsichord started going super flat. And I do agree that by the end, and especially in the unexpected encore, Owen pulled it together. But, you could tell that A/F just captured the entire (well most of) the people in the Great Hall and FF was at the disadvantage from the start; the campfire rockout does not lead nicely to the strong quartet/harpsichord indie strings-pop of FF. He was very vey good but it was definitely A/F's night.

Posted by Graham on January 15, 2006 7:06 PM



i think i am inclined to agree with both of you.
because i love akron/family but at the same time can see the faults and why some people reacted to their set the way they did.

thankfully they will be given another chance in march. & i think they have peaked enough interest that even the naysayers of this show will come. i hope they prove them wrong.

thanks for the link btw.
what you said about FF was right on the nose.


Posted by suckingalemon on January 15, 2006 1:22 PM



Barclay might be right about Toronto audiences, but crowd noise -- at least uninvited crowd noise -- was not the problem on this occasion. If anything, it was another Toronto behavioural stereotype that was in evidence -- our penchant for politeness and compliance. As someone who has been attending concerts since the early '70s, I rarely recall an audience buying into three totally different acts with such apparent equanimity. Heck, I was at a Nick Cave show once where the self-involved chatterboxes weren't willing to give opener Neko Case, of all singers, a fair hearing.

As for the compliance part, Pallett did something that night that I'll never forget. The audience, still juiced on the Akron/Family kool aid, gave every indication of continuing the boisterous party through the Final Fantasy set. All it took to put an end to that was one disapproving, sidelong glance from Pallett. It might be a symptom of dyspepsia. And maybe, as Carl intimates, it's not the kind of thing you want to make a habit of. But I know a few Stratford Festival actors who would kill to have that trick in their arsenals at school matinees.

Posted by vfw on January 14, 2006 9:53 AM



re: a/f

how did you feel, mr. zoilus, just after the first two songs? I hadn't heard anything by them, and I was hella impressed/rocked. i did get tired by the end, and wasn't feeling the crowd jam at all, but they were totally captivating at the beginning, I thought. but definitely very little of the akron side, fo shiz.

re: "dyad"

it may be the new rock crit crutch (I have no idea), but it's been a classical musicology/criticism crutch forever, as in "any group or combo of two things (melodies, themes, rhythms, characters, whatever)"

Posted by shudder on January 14, 2006 4:36 AM



okay, wtf-- is "dyad" the rockcrit 10-dollar word of the month? is it to jan 06 what "myriad" was to the summer of 02? what "gestural" was to the spring of 03? i'd never heard "dyad" before in my life, and i swear i've seen three instances since new year's. this is the fourth.

i too am torn over the akron family. i don't know about t.o., but here in mtl they set up their equipment to "the love below" at full volume and insisted on pantomining over top of "hey ya" before it was consumed by one of their noise jams. okay, i thought, half-naked hippies who just discovered outkast, whatever. then the next 15 minutes was the most amazing thing i've heard in ages--and i'd seen them twice before, and i wasn't expecting how amazing they were after a year of touring. after that, however, twas extremely mixed results, transcendence balanced with way too much faith in both themselves and the audience's patience, good or tolerable ideas stretched to 15-minute wankfests.
the other sad thing about last night's show was that the lovely mathias rozenberg played such a sacrificial opening set in front of the talkiest room ever. felt like i was in toronto again.

Posted by barclay on January 13, 2006 10:31 PM



Philipp Janzen. Jan Lankisch is somebody else.

(Jan is curator of Tomlab's Alphabet single series, and largely responsible for the release of the new David Shrigley "record". The "record" is actually an empty record sleeve filled with lyrics to non-existant songs. It's beautiful, the lyrics are great, and recorded versions of the songs have already started to arrive at Tomlab from strangers across Europe.)

Posted by Owen on January 13, 2006 7:09 PM



Sorry, I hadn't actually watched it yet. Think the revision is accurate...

Posted by zoilus on January 13, 2006 5:53 PM



er, i'm pretty sure that's not Leon. (unless he cut his hair v. v. short and looks totally different.)

Posted by Dave M. on January 13, 2006 4:42 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson