Monday, June 29th, 2009
Make It Gold
Ohbijou, Great Bloomers and Evening Hymns at the Opera House in Toronto
Frank YangYou might say this gig was a long time coming. After their triumphant show at Lee’s Palace last November to wrap their continent-spanning tour with The Acorn, Toronto’s orch-pop heroes Ohbijou went into seclusion to work on their sophomore album and emerged this Spring with Beacons. Or at least they were supposed to – almost as soon as they were announced in late February, the April release date and accompanying tour, including a hometown release party, were all were suddenly cancelled with only vague explanations offered.
As it turned out, the band who had been so successful with the DIY approach on their debut, Swift Feet For Troubling Times, had been successfully courted by labels at home and abroad and the delay was necessary to prepare for the record’s release on Bella Union earlier this month in the UK and Last Gang in North America. The record was unquestionably worth the wait, which only left the show and the band’s return to live action this past Thursday night at the Opera House. And from the moment you walked into the venue, it was clear that this would be special occasion – after all, how often do you arrive at a concert hall to find it decked out huge swathes of fabric meant to make it look like the inside of a volcano? Okay, I probably wouldn’t have realized it was supposed to be a volcano if I wasn’t told – the set dressing was taken from Ohbijou’s recently-filmed and yet-to-be-released video for “New Years” – but whatever I would have assumed it to be otherwise, it would have been impressive.
As is only appropriate for hometown record release shows, Ohbijou invited a few friends along to open up, the first of which was Evening Hymns. Jonas Bonnetta usually performs as a solo artist and that’s how his set began, but perhaps intimidated by the volcano decor, for this night he brought along a few friends to help out – six more, to be precise. And while you might think that songs built for one might be overwhelmed by the addition of a half-dozen sets of helping hands, all of the guest players were remarkably sympathetic to the songs and Bonnetta’s simple and plaintive folk-pop sounded even better “big”, like scratchy 8mm home movies blown up to widescreen and somehow not losing any of its charm. My first experience with Evening Hymns but almost certainly not to be the last.
Great Bloomers, on the other hand, I was pretty well-acquainted with already, both live and on record, via their debut full-length Speak Of Trouble. And while I’ll happily testify to their talent as musicians, they’ve yet to win me over as a band – this performance included. I thought we were making some progress early on when I realized that their country-pop stylings actually had roots in southern soul as well, and that made their rather pristine musicianship – which I had found at odds with what I like to hear in my alt.country – much more appropriate. And they confirmed my thoughts on them, both good and bad, mid-set when they inserted a cover of James Carr’s “The Dark End Of The Street” and, sadly, failed to do it any kind of justice. “Dark End Of The Street” is a stone cold classic and one of the most emotionally resonant songs around, and the Bloomers’ rendering of it as a jaunty pop tune, stripped of all its inherent anguish, was just… wrong. The rest of their set was fine, objectively speaking – they’ve got some good tunes and deliver them with aplomb – but they need to take “covering soul standards” off their “things we do well” list.
The first few times I saw Ohbijou live, what struck me the most was how much louder, effervescent and dynamic the band was on stage relative to the cozy sleepiness of Swift Feet‘s recorded incarnations. Beacons has ensured that that’s no longer a talking point for the band, capturing as it does much more of those peaks and valleys, the grand crescendos and the hushed passages. Instead, discussion will have to focus on just how well the band recreates the sweep of the record in a live setting, which they definitely do, though sidebars about how startlingly loud Casey Mecija’s voice can get when she pushes it are also appropriate. Nominally a six-piece, the band swelled to a 10- or 11-piece at points – it was hard to tell what with all the volcano decor obstructing views – including strings, keys and double bass, adding an extra musical weight that was at the same time weightless. Their set blended material old and new into a perfect statement of why they’re one of the finest young bands Canada has to offer, and while I know I’ll miss the days when they played out around town frequently, it’s no small amount of consolation to know that when they’re not here it’s because they’re now taking their lovely songs and sharing them with the rest of the world. And I know that only we get the volcano decorations.
In addition to their new record, Ohbijou have curated a second volume of their Friends In Bellwoods benefit compilation, due out later this Summer. Just as the first one gathered two CDs worth of the finest independent artists in the southern Ontario region, the second will feature rare and unreleased contributions from the likes of The Acorn, Basia Bulat, Great Lake Swimmers and of course Ohbijou, amongst many many others. And one would hope that the second volume also duplicates the charitable success of the first, which raised over $11,000 in donations for the Daily Bread Food Bank. Stay tuned for information on the release date for the album and the accompanying release show/party.
Filter has reprinted their pairing of actor Zach Galifianakis with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew wherein the former asks the latter about the video/short film he directed for Feist’s “The Water” and movies in general. Broken Social Scene will be playing on the water next Friday – July 11 – for a free show at Harbourfront Centre. Maybe Feist will join them.
Video: Feist – “The Water”
Chart has details on Amy Millan’s second solo record Masters Of The Burial which will be released September 8. Expect to hear the new material when she plays a free show at Harbourfront Centre on July 25.
You can hear new songs from both Amy Millan and The Hidden Cameras’ albums on the just-released Arts & Crafts Sampler Volume 6, which is yours for the low low price of your email address.
Video: Bishop Allen – “Shanghaied”
Spoon almost managed to release a new EP this week as a complete surprise, but then the internet got a whiff of it and ruined it. Way to go, internet. It’s called Got Nuffin, it’s out tomorrow and MBV Music has details.