Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
The Broken String
Bishop Allen, Hooded Fang, Electric Owls at the El Mocambo in Toronto
Frank YangI couldn’t offer any excuse for not discovering Bishop Allen sooner when I finally got around to reviewing their album The Broken String back in December, but maybe I could have just said “I hadn’t seen Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist yet”. Apparently the exposure gained from an appearance in said film has done wonders for the Brooklyn band’s profile and helped explain why the El Mocambo was so healthily full on Saturday night, despite yet another snowstorm. Ideally I’d like to chalk it up to the fact that they’re just a great pop band, but that’s probably expecting too much from the world.
Somewhat unusually, the local support was slotted between the two touring acts so up first was Electric Owls, the new project of Andy Herod, formerly of The Comas (though that outfit is technically just on hiatus right now). I’d seen that outfit some years back and had a copy of their Conductor record for a while, so I knew that Herod was a decent pop singer and songwriter, traits carried forward to his new incarnation. He played acoustically, both solo and occasionally accompanied by full arrangements on a laptop and it was the latter that made the best impression – Herod’s compositions are definitely at their best when buoyed by the proper accompaniment, even of the canned variety. Even so, his set was enjoyable and delivered with a goodly dose of humour and the polish of someone who’s been at it for a while.
In comparison, Toronto’s Hooded Fang came out with both the enthusiasm and slight awkwardness of an outfit that was still wet behind the ears. The co-ed six-piece outfit were unrelentingly peppy, swapping both instruments and lead vocalists from song to song. They also traded musical styles almost as much, initially to their detriment as it they sounded more like a mixtape than a band with an actual identity. But about midway through their set, things suddenly seemed to snap into place and what had been a liability now felt like a strength. A little more focus wouldn’t be a bad thing, but they’re onto something. We’ll see how much progress they make in a month when they play one of the Wavelength anniversary shows on February 14 at the Polish Combatants Hall.
The short tour two months before the release of Bishop Allen’s new album Grr… (out March 10) was obviously intended to road-test the new material, but it didn’t seem like the band wanted to make too big a deal of it – they got the new material out of the way early and only really seemed to get their glee on when they started into the old. The new stuff sounded very much in the jaunty pop vein of the old, and will surely require time spent with the recorded versions to properly appreciate the lyrical richness at which the band excels – it’s so easy to overlook that facet of things when everything is so melodic and wonderfully hooky even without having to listen closely.
As for the old, some of my favoured slower numbers from String were omitted from the set list, but it’s hard to argue with the selections that were aired as they got the band bouncing around the stage (or in the case of singer Justin Rice, showing off his running man proficiency), enlisting Andy Herod back onstage to generally help make a racket and just generally putting on a power pop party. The final two songs, the raucous “Middle Management” wrapping the main set and the beauteous “Flight 180” as the encore were the perfect way to finish things off – the former being the one from the movie and the latter the most cinematic. While it’s true that I’ve only spent a couple of months now with The Broken String, but it’s quickly worked its way into heavy rotation for exactly the reasons noted above and I can add being a terrific live band into the list of reasons to enjoy Bishop Allen. It’s not so much that they do anything new or outrageous, it’s just that like their songwriting, they do it exceedingly well and with such joy.
Photos: Bishop Allen, Hooded Fang, Electric Owls @ The El Mocambo – January 17, 2009
MP3: Bishop Allen – “Click, Click, Click, Click”
MP3: Bishop Allen – “Middle Management”
MP3: Bishop Allen – “Like Castanets”
MP3: Bishop Allen – “Rain”
MP3: Bishop Allen – “Things Are What You Make Of Them”
MP3: Bishop Allen – “Eve of Destruction”
Video: Bishop Allen – “Click, Click, Click, Click”
Video: Bishop Allen – “Middle Management”
MySpace: Bishop Allen
MySpace: Electric Owls
Clash, Rolling Stone and Paste talk to Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons. They’ll play the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on February 17 and have just released a new video from The Crying Light, which was released yesterday.
Muzzle Of Bees interviews Gary Louris & Mark Olson – you know, saying both their names is a bit of a mouthful. They need to come up with something a little more compact, more memorable. How about… The Jayhawks? No? Just thought I’d put that out there. Ready For The Flood is out next week and they play the Mod Club on February 4.
Animal Collective have announced their world tour in support of the much gushed-over Merriweather Post Pavilion and the Toronto date will bring them to the much-beloved Sound Academy on May 16. Did I say beloved? I meant reviled. The album is currently streaming at Spinner and I may tune in just to see what all the hubbub is about.
Stream: Matt & Kim / Grand
Stream: Cut Off Your Hands / You And I
MTV has dollops of casting news about the Scott Pilgrim film, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Joining Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers) are a whole pile of people who I won’t pretend to know (besides Brandon Routh from Superman Returns). But the news of progress on the film is very exciting, and according to the AV Club, shooting is set to begin in March here in Toronto. Which still doesn’t answer the question of whether Toronto will actually be portraying Toronto in the film. It would be fun if they actually shot the requisite scenes at Sneaky Dee’s and Lee’s Palace, though. Anyways, volume five of the Scott Pilgrim chronicles – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe – is out February 4. Update: Thanks to Scott (Pilgrim?) for pointing out the photo gallery in the comments, and in particular this cast collage. I’d actually thought for a second about doing one myself, but realized that it’d be a lot of work and probably suck. So I didn’t. But based on this, the casting does indeed look terrific.
You see what I did there? Started with a Michael Cera reference, ended with a Michael Cera reference. Mad skills, I tell ya.