Friday, May 20th, 2005
It’s been an eventful eight months for Rilo Kiley since they were last in town at the Horseshoe in October. Their profile and fanbase has grown immensely, More Adventurous has shown up on plentiful best-of lists for 2004, they’ve signed to a major label (Warner Bros) and will be playing the biggest venues of their careers later this Summer when they open for Coldplay across North America. In fact, I fully expect this to be perhaps the last time I see them – if they continue this trajectory, they’ll be playing far larger venues at far higher prices than I’ll probably be inclined to pay. Having gone to a number of bigger shows in the last few months, I know for a fact that I really prefer the smaller ones. I was fairly disappointed in Rilo Kiley’s Horseshoe show – the performance was decent (more on that in a bit) but the sound was awful (at least from where I was) and I had some pretty high expectations of that one that were not met. I was certainly hoping to bring some more positive gig memories away with me last night.
The bill last night was oddly similar to the one that came through last Fall. Two openers – the first one a saccharine-sweet co-ed pop collective (The Brunettes instead of Tilly & The Wall) and the second a mildly brooding but sensitive indie-rock outfit fronted by a really skinny guy (Nada Surf instead of Now It’s Overhead). Deliberate? Coincidence? I do not know.
The Brunettes were such an unexpected treat when they opened for The Shins last month that I did wonder if they’d be as beguiling the second time around. One thing was certain, anyway – they were smaller. Last time, they were touring as a 7-piece – this time, there were only five. Maybe two of them got confiscated at the border? Their set was an abbreviated and somewhat stripped down version of the one they played with The Shins and it went over wonderfully. I suspect much of the crowd had already been converted at that Shins show (same audience demographic) – the response had the zeal of the converted. They were much fun and knowing some of the songs this time around made it that much more enjoyable. Yay, Brunettes.
The last time I saw Nada Surf was the last time I was at the Opera House – a year and a half ago opening for Death Cab. I thought it a little odd that they were touring without a new record to push and almost two years since Let Go came out, but hey – you gotta pay the rent, I guess. I’m not a huge fan of the band. I like them alright on record – Let Go was a pretty good pop album – but live, they scored pretty low on the charismo-meter and pretty high on the bland-o-tron. Well after having a couple years to work out the kinks and refine their live show… they’re still rolling threes. Their overly-long set drew mostly from Let Go and also included a couple of new numbers from their next album, out in September. I didn’t really mind them, per se, but when you’re standing on the most painful floor in Toronto, you don’t want to spend any more time waiting around than is absolutely necessary. I’m sending the bill for my Robaxacet to Nada Surf.
While my next-day review of the last Rilo Kiley show wasn’t especially harsh, my long-term memories are a little less kind. Besides the craptacular sound at that show, I recall that the band seemed a little grumpy. Not a lot of smiling or good vibes, and the performance, while polished, seemed more perfunctory than passionate (oh, the alliteration!). So as I said, I was hoping this one would make up for it. And that it did – in spades. It’s rare that I end up prefering the large venue gig to the small club one, but this show simply stomped all over the Horseshoe show from last October. The band has gotten much tighter and more confident – there was a swagger in their performance that certainly wasn’t there before and they took full advantage of the additional onstage real estate. That they seemed to really be enjoying themselves this time around probably helped the mood of the show as well. The set list was an almost perfectly-paced mix of numbers from More Adventurous and Execution Of All Things (as well as one new song). It took them a couple songs to get the mix sorted out but when they did, it sounded fantastic. At long last I was able to hear Jenny Lewis’ voice loud and clear and it really is a marvelous thing. I’m a little sad that Rilo Kiley’s star is rising so fast and so high. They’re moving onto bigger and better things but I had selfishly hoped that they could stay underground not forever, but just a little bit longer. But if they have to go – and go they do, stardom beckons – then last night’s show was one hell of a farewell gift.
I didn’t make it up to the front for this show – whole lotta tall folks in line ahead of me – so I was shooting from the front of the mezzanine, maybe 15 metres back. The pictures turned out somewhat better than I expected, but not great. Noisy, a lot of crowd in the shots (the stage at the Opera House is low!) and not especially dynamic in composition. Not terrible, but certainly not worth staying up later than I already did to go through them. Check back tomorrow if you wanna see.
Oh yeah, note to the Opera House – bathroom attendants? What the fuck?
And on the topic of the band getting bigger, Jenny Lewis talks to Boston.com about the indie/major tightrope they’re trying to walk (via LHB). Update: The National Post’s Adam Radwanski also covers the topic with Ms Lewis.
Pop (All Love) calls me the Canadian indie blogosphere’s “own Bill O’Reilly. Only less evil”. Thanks, man! I’ll work on those sexual harrassment suits as soon as I can. It is now my mission to have someone register www.sweetjesusihatechromewavesdotnet.com. Oh, and there is a context for his comments, thanks.
np – Godspeed You Black Emperor! / Yanqui U.X.O.