by carl wilson

Dis-concerted: Live Notes -
Keren Ann, Dean and Britta, Baby Dee

Ever mystified by the capricious ways of the Mod Club, I took the 7 pm door time as a signal that 8 would be an opportune time to arrive to catch the beginning of the music at tonight's Keren Ann/Dean and Britta show; further, I had the impression from publicity that Keren Ann was headlining, as counterintuitive as that seemed. Wrong on both counts, and as a result, I only caught the last 20 minutes or so of Keren Ann's set. I was taken with her first album Not Going Anywhere a few years ago (especially its gossamer title single) but time has thickened the delicate-wisp-strands into more mundanely conventional folk-pop. The bigger surprise was Dean and Britta - I've long responded to Dean Wareham's venerable indie-stitution Luna with a benign neglect, since Damon and Naomi got custody of me in the Galaxie 500 split, but it seems I've been missing out on the straightforward appeal of Wareham's songwriting, an understated channelling of VU-via-Yo La Tengo that results in a lot of catchy, atmospheric, memorable tunes. They're strong on texture, which explains the partisanship of shoegaze/Britpop fans to Luna's stuff - another reason I haven't paid attention, as that's pretty much the last descriptor you could affix to me, but the texture in this case is just ornamentation on solid frames, not gauzey camouflage. It's an uncomplicated pleasure, but the music hit the emotional spot. Britta Phillips is only a passable singer, or at least her voice isn't always flattered by the range in which Wareham's talk-sung verses are pitched, but she's quite a fine bass player, and, well, on stage she has other compensatory charms. So sue me, I'm a fan of watching good-looking married couples sing love songs together. It's sexy. It's romantic. It's better than watching brothers and sisters do the same. (In the ancient iconic struggle between Sonny & Cher and Donny & Marie, I've made my alliance, even though, ok, nothing involving Sonny Bono can be described as "sexy.") In any case, fine set and it seems I have some Luna/D&B; to catch up on - anyone want to send me a mix?

On Wednesday, a much greater revelation hit Toronto, but not many showed up at the Drake Underground to receive it thanks to the avalanche of snow that was falling on the city at the time. I was sceptical of Baby Dee at first - the typical descriptors - "transgender," "performance artist," "cabaret" etc - suggested the '80s-bound "transgressive" cultural location that put me off about her friends Antony and the Johnsons (don't get me wrong, Antony's voice is miraculous, but I only like him when he's singing other people's songs) and the "Cleveland street artist" and "Coney Island freak show" and "produced by Will Oldham" and "with guest Andrew W.K." elements had me wondering if this was a case of "outsider-music" being half-consciously condescended to by its patrons. But praise from some Cleveland-area friends and a listen to the songs at her MySpace made me switch off my cynicism - she has a unique entrancing voice, and it's hard for me to resist a harp player - and by the end of her set at the Drake, I was a convert. The sound mix when she was on piano, as she was for much of the show, combined with her extremely capable band (John Contreras [Current 93] on cello, Alex Neilson on drums, guitarist Emmett Kelly [The Cairo Gang] and Palace brother Paul Oldham on bass), sometimes buried her voice, so my favourite moments were those on harp - she's completely competent but also the only harpist I've ever seen who treats it a bit like a punk rocker playing an acoustic guitar, frequently thumping the lower strings with the palm of her hand for a discordant thunder-rumble. (Which makes sense when you find out that her initial bond for the harp was based on falling in love with the harp-like guts of a smashed-up piano.) Her performance was ecstatic and generously embracing, an enormous affirmation of personality and comfortable eccentricity, middle-aged self-acceptance writ very physically and soulfully large, an utter rebuke to bitterness and reticence. Which would all be very self-helpish if the songs weren't so intelligent, tuneful and surprising, autobiographically daring ( a lot of family-unromance is present in a blunt tone that recalls Xiu Xiu's they-fuck-you-up-your-mom-and-dad gestures) - and anachronistic in a chosen, musically literate way that bespeaks unhesitatingly distinct personal curiosities and taste. And how can one not melt over a merch table where you can buy official Baby Dee bird calls (see picture), little wooden nubs with a steel screw inside that produces chirping out of adversity, and that come with a little capsule of rosin to keep them squeaking true?

General | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, February 10 at 12:33 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)



I'd argue for Bewitched too. That one and Penthouse are probably all you'd need.

Posted by DW. on February 11, 2008 6:40 PM



Penthouse is all you'll need.

Posted by Eric Z. on February 11, 2008 11:21 AM



Luna's Penthouse is one of the most endlessly playable albums ever made. I find it impossible to exhaust. Start there.

Posted by Matos W.K. on February 11, 2008 3:42 AM



Honestly, I haven't checked out the Dean & Britta stuff, but as far as Luna goes the "Luna Live" album along with Romantica (which came out after it) is all I've really needed. The live one is a good place to start exploring, in any case.

Posted by Ian Mathers on February 10, 2008 10:03 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson