Wednesday, June 25th, 2008
Photo by Frank Yang
For all the times I’ve seen Shearwater live – a half dozen times prior to Monday night – I’ve never seen them play what I’d call a full set. It’s always been shorter showcase slots at SxSW or opening slots for other bands here in Toronto. The critical praise laid at the feet of their last record Palo Santo didn’t prove to be enough for them to graduate to the headlining circuit, but it wasn’t until this year’s even more-lauded Rook that they would finally get to see their names on the top of the marquee… except here.
In deference to the hometown (or home-country, at least) advantage of their tourmates in Frog Eyes, Shearwater took the middle slot in Monday night’s bill at the Horseshoe. I got there a bit late, missing openers Evangelicals completely (but I’m okay with that, I saw them in March and that was plenty) as well as Shearwater’s opening number – an a capella cover of Nico’s “Nibelungen” – and arrived as they began “Red Sea, Black Sea”.
With the five-piece touring configuration of the band swapping instruments both conventional and esoteric, the early portion of Shearwater’s set was beautiful yet seemed strangely ghostly. I felt as though it was viewed/heard through a soft-focus lens (no my camera lens wasn’t dirty), an impression heightened by Jonathan Meiburg’s soaring vocals – I’ve heard it so many times but it always amazes. Not until “Century Eyes”, when Thor Harris settled in for some serious drum kit abuse, did their feet touch the ground and the sound began to hit with some serious weight and snapped into focus. That extra dimension really propelled the band through the finale of their set, culminating as always with a feedback-laden “White Waves”. But as they were readying to leave the stage, the smallish but vocal crowd persuaded them to stay for two more songs.
The encore in all but in name added two more Rook songs to the set including the almost never-played “Home Life” (Meiburg said it was the second time they’d ever played it), tilting the balance of the set to the new material and cementing the performance as a remarkable one. As much as I like Palo Santo, I had hoped that Rook would get more time in the spotlight – those who caught the “Rook live” shows in Austin and NYC have my envy. I was also a little sad though completely understanding that none of the pre-Palo Santo material was included and probably never will be again. That was practically a different band, but it’s still sad that some great songs have essentially been retired from the stage.
The contrasts between Shearwater and Frog Eyes are significant, and yet the two bands were more complimentary than I’d expected. Where Shearwater are airy, led by Meiburg’s angelic voice and have between song banter explaining how an exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History inspired a song, Frog Eyes are similarly earthy, defined by Carey Mercer’s manic on-stage persona and fill in the space between songs with lines like, “it’s hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock”. I wouldn’t claim to be a Frog Eyes fan by any measure, but their last album Tears Of The Valedictorian has grown on me some and though it’s not the best setting for getting acquainted with their songs – they’re rather dense and tend to sound samey at first pass – I’ve enjoyed them the couple times I’ve seen them live. Mercer is quite entertaining to watch as he spends as much time singing/bellowing straight up into the air to no one in particular as he does into the mic.
I didn’t stay for all of Frog Eyes’ set – I’d gone mainly to see Shearwater and was quite satisfied with the night before they even started their set. What with being tapped to open up some dates for Coldplay later this Summer, it seems that Shearwater are finally getting the notice they deserve and I expect that next time through town, they’ll be firmly entrenched as the headliners no matter who else is on the bill or where they’re from.
Photos: Frog Eyes, Shearwater @ The Horseshoe – June 23, 2008
MP3: Frog Eyes – “Bushels”
MP3: Frog Eyes – “The Oscillator’s Hum”
MP3: Shearwater – “Rooks”
MP3: Shearwater – “Leviathan, Bound”
MySpace: Frog Eyes
Sigur Ros’ new album Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust is currently streaming at Spinner. If you, like me, missed out on last week’s presale for their September 22 show at Massey Hall – and may I just say that staggering the on-sale times throughout the whole day of the floors, balconies and gallery seats without any hint of when each was actually going on sale was kind of lame – take note. The “Friends Of Massey Hall” presale goes today at 10PM and the regular onsale via Ticketmaster goes Friday at 10AM.
Billboard reports that The Verve have thought long and hard about what to name their comeback record, out August 19, and come up with… Forth. Man, bet Portishead are kicking themselves for not thinking of that one. The first single from the album is currently streaming on the band’s MySpace and it’s called “Love Is Noise”, aka the song with the annoying sample in the encore of their Spring tour. As a first taste of where their collective muse is these days, it’s not terribly impressive but at least I know the other new song they were playing live – “Sit And Wonder” – is considerably stronger.
Also of delight to old Anglophiles is the news that Oasis have also set a release date and title for their next album. Dig Out Your Soul will be out on October 7 and I imagine they’ll preview some material from it when the close out the second day of V Fest on September 7 – but hopefully not too much. Noel Gallagher delivers the first salvo of album hyperbole to Billboard.
The Times examines the return of a kinder, gentler Primal Scream with their new album Beautiful Future, out July 22. You can download the first single from their website for free by signing up to their mailing list. The Sunday Mail also has a chat with Bobby Gillespie.