Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
My Maudlin Career
Camera Obscura and Anni Rossi at Lee's Palace in Toronto
Frank YangThere were plenty of evening entertainment options in Toronto this past Saturday night, including but not limited to free shows as part of Pride over in the Village and the Zunior Fifth Anniversary festivities at the Tranzac, but I opted to head over to Lee’s Palace to see Camera Obscura – a band I’d already seen live some half-dozen times. Considering that even the most generous fan would be hard-pressed to call them an especially dynamic live act, you might rightly question why I keep going back rather than try something new. To that, all I can say is “I don’t know” and “I like them”.
It also helped that this was their first time back in town since August 2007, their final show in support of Let’s Get Out Of This Country, and they were playing a room half the size of that show despite having released maybe their best album yet in My Maudlin Career. Country had been a definite breakthrough record for the Scottish outfit, shedding once and for all the Belle & Sebastian comparisons by adopting a more Motown-influenced attitude, but while it had a brace of killer singles, across the whole record it sometimes lagged or drifted back into more familiar musical postures. Career‘s highlights don’t quite hit the same heights as its predecessor, but it’s a much more consistent record top to bottom. The band sounds much more comfortable in the richness of their sonic trappings but most importantly, Traceyanne Campbell is doing something different with her voice. It’s still wearied and lovely as ever, but there’s something in her inflection and phrasing on this record that ratchets up the emotional quotient significantly. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot.
And so this is why I was standing at Lee’s Palace on Saturday night, waiting for the show to begin. And waiting. And waiting. Being completely sold out, arriving early was necessary to get a decent vantage point but the set times seemed unnecessarily late. Normally the opening act would serve to pass the time, but Chicago-based Anni Rossi seems to be a firm believer in the adages of “less is more” as well as “leave them wanting more”. Her warm-up set ran just 20 minutes, but she certainly made an impression in that time with her idiosyncratic, sorta-folkish sorta-not songs, distinctive acrobatic vocals and musical accompaniment consisting of
violin viola and percussion generated by her stomping on the suitcase on which she stood. With a recipe like that you’d think she’d be a bit difficult for the casual listener but she was actually quite immediately engaging and surely could have played longer without anyone complaining – after her set, I saw a few people scurry back to the merch table to pick up copies of her debut Rockwell. She’ll be back in town on July 14 opening for Micachu at the El Mocambo – fingers crossed she plays a longer set.
The brevity of her performance meant it was another lengthy wait for the main attraction and grumbling could be overheard from all directions, but when the sextet finally strode onstage, the ladies decked out in vintage dresses, all was forgiven. Somewhat surprisingly, it was a different lineup than I’d seen play SxSW just three months prior – trumpeter Nigel Baillie had since gone to part-time status to tend to his new role as a father and bassist Gavin Dunbar had left the tour early due to a death in the family. The stand-ins were more than up to the task, however, and even added a bit of extra energy that might not have been there otherwise.
For as already stated, Camera Obscura will never be mistaken for Gogol Bordello in a live setting. They’re quite content to play their songs well and let their craftsmanship speak for them, so it’s a good thing their songs do that so well. Tracyanne Campbell has become a much better frontperson over the years, though that’s relative to the early days where the odds of her so much as cracking a smile were pretty low and if she did, it’d be at show’s end. On this night, she flashed a smile or two early on – basically guaranteeing a good night – and even cracked a few jokes. Their set covered almost all of My Maudlin Career – the arrangements were somewhat leaner than on record but never sounded lacking – and a lot of Country material also made appearances, particularly later in the set. Big cheers went out for the staples from the first two records, but for my money the new material is just so far superior that it deserves the spotlight. And I was particularly proud of the Hogtown punters for cheering when Toronto got namechecked in “Forests & Sands”, but only the first time – for subsequent choruses we stayed polite and let them do their thing. That’s the way to do it. And that’s how Camera Obscura did it – politely, but excellently. I like them.
Photos: Camera Obscura, Anni Rossi @ Lee’s Palace – June 27, 2009
MP3: Camera Obscura – “My Maudlin Career”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “Let’s Get Out Of This Country”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “If Looks Could Kill”
MP3: Anni Rossi – “Ecology”
MP3: Anni Rossi – “Wheelpusher”
Video: Camera Obscura – “French Navy”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”
Video: Camera Obscura – “If Looks Could Kill”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Let’s Get Out Of This Country”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Tears For Affairs”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Teenager”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Keep It Clean”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Eighties Fan”
Video: Anni Rossi – “The West Coast”
MySpace: Camera Obscura
MySpace: Anni Rossi
They’d already played a number of warm-up gigs, but Glastobury was really the first big Blur reunion show, and by all accounts they utterly killed it. A good portion of the set was broadcast on the BBC and Deaf Indie Elephants has pointers to where you might be able to hear it. And if that doesn’t work or just isn’t enough, Pitchfork reports that the band’s shows in Hyde Park this week will be recorded and released as a live record about a week after the shows are performed.
Under The Radar gets a status update on album number two from Lucky Soul’s Andrew Laidlaw. Still being recorded, it’s targeted for October release and is going to be titled Whoa, Billy! – making this the title track. You can also follow the band on Twitter. Update: Band tweet denies that the album is going to be called Whoa Billy – thank goodness.
As part of their “alt.country” week, Drowned In Sound contemplates London’s alt.country scene, which with players such as Lightspeed Champion, Emmy The Great and Laura Marling, looks (and sounds) an awful lot like what they were calling “anti-folk” last year.
A couple of show announcements to wrap – Butthole Surfers are apparently still around and will be at The Phoenix on October 2, tickets $25. But much more exciting is the news that School Of Seven Bells are finally playing a headlining date in Toronto. They’re at Lee’s Palace on October 15 in support of Alpinisms, one of my favourite albums of 2008.
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Connjur”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Chain”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “My Cabal” (Robin Guthrie mix)
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “My Cabal”
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep”