Monday, November 10th, 2008
Oh! Mighty Engine
Neil Halstead at the Drake Underground in Toronto
Frank YangIt’s not overstating things to say that three of the four Mojave 3 shows I’ve seen over the years and Neil Halstead’s solo show at the Rivoli in 2002 have been some of my favourite concert memories, ever. The fourth and most recent Mojave 3 show in October 2006 broke that streak, however, or was memorable for the wrong reasons (terrible sound, half the band missing) so I had my fingers crossed going into Saturday night’s show at the Drake that Halstead would be able to renew the streak of memorable performances starring him.
The opener was a local (as of that day, as he mentioned he’d spent the day moving downtown) by the name of Andre Charles Theriault, but who used to ply his trade under the pseudonym “Ghost Hands”. It was as Ghost Hands that I saw him open for Beach House back in November 2006, and while his craft is approximately the same – deft guitarwork paired with detailed and conversational singer-songwriterness – the skill applied has greatly improved, with melodies and turns of phrase that were much more evocative. An impressive little set – now if only he had a more compact and memorable name… like, say, Ghost Hands?
One of the most distinctive things about Mojave 3 as a live band is how powerful and commanding they are, even when their volume is barely more than a whisper. It’s hard to explain, but once experienced, impossible to forget. So it’s remarkable that even without his bandmates and armed just with an acoustic guitar, Neil Halstead still has that sort of effect. Seated alone behind a couple of mics (one for his voice, one for his guitar), Halstead opened the set with a reading of “Martha’s Mantra”, from 2002’s
Sleeping On Roads, that set the tone for the night by absolutely silencing the well-filled room. Halstead’s persona is too low-key and laid-back to fit a descriptor as gaudy as “magician”, but what he creates is most definitely magic.
For a good portion of the set, Halstead was joined by a couple of bandmates on bass and guitar/mandolin who really helped fill out the sound. On a few occasions the lead guitar lost the plot, either in terms of staying on beat or generally over-playing, but for the most part kept things tasteful and more than made up for any transgressions with his spot-on backing vocals. I was somewhat and pleasantly surprised how deeply the set list delved further into the Mojave 3 songbook – given that Halstead had two excellent solo records to work with, the aforementioned Roads and this year’s Oh! Mighty Engine, he could have assembled a perfectly solid set just from those but I suppose he appreciated that there’s no probably no such thing as a Neil Halstead fan who’s not a Mojave 3 fan or vice versa.
It’s difficult to pick a high point since really – the whole gig qualifies – but a peculiar highlight was his inability to remember the final chords to “Sarah”. He tried gamely a few times to find the right one before aborting, and the crowd applauded. You know you’re in a room of devout fans when. And also remarkable was the encore, for the reason that there was one. Early shows at the Drake usually have a hard 11PM curfew and Halstead’s main set ran a full hour and a half to 11. I certainly didn’t expect there to be more. But more there was, as he came back for another three songs despite the house’s preference that we all clear out for a drinkier crowd – at one point they started to turn on the house lights but they were shouted back off by the audience. All told, almost two hours of glorious songs from one of my favourite songwriters ever. Does it get better than that? Maybe, but not by much.
amNY has an interview with Halstead wherein he explains why there’s no Slowdive material in his solo sets – the reason is more mundane than you might think, though I should point out that if I was able to learn to play “Dagger” in 20 minutes, then surely he can jog his memory. Just saying. And also definitely stop by MySpace Transmissions, for which Halstead recorded a beauteous session which is available to watch in video as well as download in high-res MP3 for free.
Photos: Neil Halstead, Andre Charles Theriault @ The Drake Underground – November 8, 2008
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Paint A Face”
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Witless Or Wise” (live on MySpace Transmissions)
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Martha’s Mantra (For The Pain)” (live on MySpace Transmissions)
Video: Neil Halstead – “Paint A Face”
Video: Neil Halstead – “Queen Bee”
A Ride “where are they now”… Andy Bell is in Oasis and cashing large paycheques. Mark Gardener is in Mark Gardener but not seemingly up to too much at the moment. Loz Colbert is in the newly-reformed Jesus & Mary Chain and also International Jetsetters (unremarkable band, sample below). But whither Steve Queralt? One Salient Oversight tracked down the Ride bassman for an interview wherein they cover his start in music, where Ride went right and where they went wrong, what he’s up to now and, of course, the chances of a reunion (slim to none). Good reading.
Cheers to Muzzle Of Bees for pointing out this blog entry from Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch pointing out that a new set of recordings entitled God Help The Girl are recorded and in the process of being mastered. But as I point out in the comments, this is not a proper Belle & Sebastian release, but the soundtrack to a musical film that Murdoch has been working on and set to start filming in Spring of next year – you can hear samples from it at both iMeem and MySpace. And though any number of band members will make an appearance on said soundtrack, Belle & Sebastian the band are currently on an indefinite hiatus. Fans will have to make do with the release of the BBC Sessions collection due out on November 18 and which contains four unreleased songs.
Those sessions all hail from early part of the band’s career, from 1996 through 2001, and those four new songs are the final ones to feature then-cellist/vocalist Isobel Campbell. She’ll also be appearing on another release coming out on November 18 – Sunday At Devil Dirt, the second album from Campbell and Mark Lanegan. The follow-up to 2005’s Ballad Of The Broken Seas, it was released in the UK in the Spring but will now be available domestically in North America with a half-dozen bonus tracks to sweeten the deal.
Johnny Marr has submitted himself to an interview wherein he talks about the process of revisiting and remastering the material that’s gone into the latest Smiths compilation, The Sound Of The Smiths, out Tuesday. There’s also a conversation with Frank Arkwright, the mastering engineer on the reissue. Via The Music Slut.
Tech question – anyone running a NAS system, either via a router or a drive enclosure? My Apple Airport Extreme, after being flaky ever since I got it last Summer, finally appears to have died (Extreme POS, more like). I’m probably going to replace it with a non-NAS router, but that then leaves all my iTunes music – which I’d gotten used to being able to stream wirelessly – stuck being tethered to my laptop. And I was looking at getting a big-ass (1TB or so) external drive for backups and archiving so if you want to suggest something along those lines with an ethernet connection and which is reliable, please do so.
I hate technology.