by carl wilson

Bleating Hearts

Casey Dienel.

My review of the Patti Smith church concert at Pop Mtl was in yesterday's Globe and Mail - I was on the train most of the day and the wireless service wasn't working, thus the delay. It comes with a festival-wrapping sidebar which mentions in passing the schedule switch with Sunset Rubdown on Saturday - which resulted in my arriving when the band was in the last minute of the last song. After a bad experience with the completely vague schedule of the Fred Wesley House Party the same night, I ended up kind of pissed off at the organizers, which I hate to be because they are lovely people who run a fantastic festival. I realize some adjustments are unavoidable, but they ought to be prominently announced on the website as soon as they're known and ideally also sent out by email - all these communication media exist for a reason.

On Sunday night I decided to stick with one location, and spent the night at Said the Gramophone's Bleating Heart Show in a compact but lovely chapel on the McGill campus. There was so much pretty music one hardly needed a drink, which was good, as there were no drinks. And the electricity threatened to cut out all night, so that by the third band apparently the whole show was running on one breaker. And when it got crowded, we got packed pretty tight in them pews. But it was all old-musty-sweater comfy. For awhile.

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Casey Dienel played songs in the genre I've come to call "poor-little-rich-girl music" (cf Cat Power, Scout Niblett, Feist, etc. - there's "poor little rich boy" music too of course, but the genders produce somewhat different patterns). But I find Dienel's unusually well observed and engrossing - so add "with a creative-writing MFA" to the descriptor, although I know that's not literally true in this case - and as unaffected as it's possible to be when you're working that slightly-precious end of the spectrum. She was an extremely charming presence too, making great efforts to speak "your language," French - with a very pretty accent - even though really there were probably about two francophones among the 60 people in the room at that point. The flaw in poor-little-rich-girl music, I find, is that very charm: It's concerned about its posture, its smile, its polite nod and studied distances. So my favourite moment in Dienel's set was when she and her small band broke through to somewhat rougher territory, as on Napeleon at Waterloo. I liked the very unpolished singalong at the end - she led us into it so casually and unstagily that it was almost like she was saying, "sing in your most mundane voice, sing along talkatively - don't belt it out, sing like you're singing to yourself bicycling down the street," and it was an unusually beautiful uncertain sound to hear 60 people singing at once but each to themselves.

Montreal duo Elfin Saddle played next. I think it took me most of the set to forgive them for their name, though I have since found it's an actual thing rather than just cutesy whimsy. There was a lot I liked about this pair, originally from Victoria, BC - Jordin McKenzie is clearly a very strong musician, playing a one-man-bandish agglomeration of instruments, while Emi Honda has a gorgeous voice, and their Alexander Calder contraptions of percussive objects (on the sidewalk afterwards, someone called them "bells and chimes and paddywinks") were alluring to look at (McKenzie and Honda are also visual artists) and fun to watch being played. I didn't find McKenzie's singing or the songs themselves so captivating - a bit too ersatz-old-timey in that current acid-folk way for me - but there's loads of potential there.

In between sets, there was an inane conversation going on behind us between two women, one of whom was saying, "I'll take it, but I kind of hate the label 'bisexual,' " to which her friend replied, "Yeah, I hate all labels - the only one I'm really comfortable with is 'hetero,' because, you know, it doesn't really have any meaning." Her friend was all like, "Uhhhh..." And so she started insisting on it: "No, you know it's just what everyone assumes anyway, so it doesn't have any specific meaning." Halfway through Horsefeathers' set after that, I wanted to turn around to her and say, "Honey, this is the meaning of hetero." Nothing against heteros and all - hell, I am one myself - but the lead singer of Horse Feathers had this whole sensitive-guy thing going on where he doused his voice with Nick Drake-flavoured icing sugar, to the point that one could barely even discern a melody, much less the words, it was just this sound that kept repeating over and over, "See how nice my voice is? See how many feelings I have? Girls, wouldn't you like to dump your boyfriends and sleep with me?" Honestly, I could not figure out what a single song was about. And it was a shame because the rest of the band is kind of incredible, especially the brother/sister string section, Peter Broderick on violin and Heather Broderick on cello. It was great when they all sang together and drowned the lead singer out, which happened fairly frequently, but this band is less than the sum of its parts. The parts are quite impressive. But the sum is "21st-century James Taylor."

Somewhere around this point I said to Sean from StG, "We sure have had a lot of sweet," and he said, "Don't worry, there's a lttle bit of mean coming up." He was lying, because Clues, who were playing I think their first gig at this show, turns out to be pretty sweet as well, but they are at least not indie MOR. Clues consists of Alden Penner (ex-Unicorns) on guitar/vox, Brendan Reed (ex-Arcade Fire, Les Angles Morts) and Bethany Or (Shanghai Triad). You can view a portion of the show here, although the real YouTube Video moment in the show came later, when Reed suddenly threw a drumstick at the audience, stood up and overturned his entire drum set, knocking over a microphone and a xylophone, which kind of tumbled off the stage into the crowd, and walked off stage and out of the room. And then he returned a couple of minutes later, saying, "Sorry, I got overheated." Some folks were taken aback but it was clearly an impulsive bit of performance art (and apparently a kind of tribute to Reed's own bands past) intended to make up for the fact that the show was not going so well in its own right - the music was really pretty great when there was music, but there was a lot of mumbling and foot-shuffling and can't-tune-my-guitar and stupid jokes and time-wasting going on before that, pretty much all on the part of Penner, who was drunk and wearing a cape. The cape made me want to slap him but I restrained myself. It was kind of unfortunate, as Or had already announced her parents were in the audience, who 30 years ago got married in the very same chapel, so one couldn't help imagining the band conversation that was going to follow.

But Reed really did try to keep it interesting, and by the end of the show, a lot of us were just laughing at the absurdity, and so was the band, and they really managed to undo any kind of mutual hostility and get us all into whatever trouble they were having, together. As for Clues' songs - some of them sounded pretty fantastic, although I had a feeling Penner's lyrics were tipping over into bad undergraduate-poetry over-extended metaphors etc., but that could have been the cape. The drumming is epic. We couldn't really hear the organ much of the time. But it was wonderful to wrap up Pop Mtl with a set so constructed to be something to talk about for the rest of the year, until we're all together again next October to say, "Remember when ... ?"

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 09 at 12:31 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)




Zoilus by Carl Wilson