Monday, October 12th, 2009
Forget The Night Ahead
The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Brakes at The El Mocambo in Toronto
Frank YangThere’s no shortage of terrific records that have been released with the Fat Cat marque, but many of those have been Europe-only territory deals, those same artists having different representation in North America and thus keeping the label’s profile over here largely on the down low. That’s begun changing in recent years, however, as they’ve assembled an impressive roster of talent on worldwide deals and thus been able to assemble tours like the one that rolled through the El Mocambo on Saturday night, featuring The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Brakes.
Brakes (or BrakesBrakesBrakes as they’re forced to call themselves in the US) technically had seniority over their tourmates (their latest album Touchdown is their third), presumably profile (they’ve toured North America numerous times already), and a notable pedigree (they’re fronted Eamon Hamilton, formerly of British Sea Power, and feature the White brothers of The Electric Soft Parade on guitar and drums) but despite all this, they were tapped to open things up. This may not be so much a slight on the band, however, as a sensible decision to keep the angst-vs-time graph of the evening on a steady incline because unlike the other two bands on the bill, Brakes don’t come with a lot of anguish – just good, goofy rock’n’roll. That I can say this is notable because their 2005 debut Give Blood didn’t impress me at all, feeling like a jokey country-rock pastiche as the principals took a break from their main gigs. But since then, the break has largely become the main gig and their subsequent records have done a good job of bringing proper songcraft to the table without giving up their sense of reckless whimsy. Their set was a fine example of this, Tom White obviously having a grand time abusing his Telecaster as Hamilton brayed intently while being equally hard on his acoustic. I had thought Hamilton mad when he gave up his gig as keyboardist/drum-banger/rabble-rouser for British Sea Power but it’s pretty clear now he knew what he was doing.
We Were Promised Jetpacks (WWPJ to their Twitter friends) came into 2009 on a modest amount of hype based less on who they were than who they followed. Fat Cat had hit home runs the past two years in breaking Scottish bands worldwide – The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit – so there was a lot of expectation put on the Edinburgh quartet simply by virtue of their accents. Their debut These Four Walls doesn’t go in for the grand sonic tumult of the former or the bruised folk romanticism of the latter, instead favouring a drier, no frills and borderline-frantic approach that’s largely reliant on frontman Adam Thompson’s raw bellow for impact. It’s been well-received but has hardly set the world ablaze, so the band was as surprised as anyone about how enthusiastically they were welcomed at this show. A modest but immensely vocal contingent had evidently decided Walls was their favourite record of the year and were out to cheer and sing along loudly and generally egg the band on to putting on a pretty impressive performance, far better than the one I’d seen them give at SxSW in March. I don’t necessarily know that they have the inspiration to equal, never mind best, their labelmates and countrymen to whom they’re constantly compared but they’ve definitely got more upside than they’ve yet shown.
For The Twilight Sad, coming back to the El Mocambo was a return to the scene of the crime – that crime being the April 2007 assault and battery on unsuspecting eardrums in their Toronto debut. That show stuck in the mind for the intensity of the sonic assault and the strength of the songs off Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters in a live setting, but not so much for the band’s showmanship. Their set opening for Mogwai back in May demonstrated a somewhat more animated and engaging stage presence, but nothing compared to what they brought on Saturday night. Mind you, these are relative statements – they haven’t taken scissor-kick lessons or invested in onstage pyrotechnics, but in the same way that my review of their new record Forget The Night Ahead mentioned their music being more nimble than on the debut, so too was their live show much more animated. Singer James Graham, anyways.
He seems to have properly embraced the role of frontman, and rather than staying anchored on stage and communing with his microphone as he once did, he now has a repertoire of moves including wandering the stage, mic in hand, and dropping to his knees to sing. It’s not a lot, no, but the extra bit of theatricality it imparted gave the show a drastically different tone than the last time they were on the same stage. Similarly, Graham engaged the crowd in banter and offered up a smile or two, largely dispelling the brooding and melancholic mystique that seemed to envelop them before. Though their songs are still built to deliver that gut punch of despair, the band seems uninterested in cultivating the image of themselves as downcast mopers, press photo shoots in cemeteries notwithstanding.
Matters of stage presentation aside, The Twilight Sad show was pretty much everything I’d been hoping for. The set was split evenly between their two excellent records, the slightly more dynamic and restrained Night material making the unfettered onslaught of the Autumns selections that much more intense in comparison and they remain devastatingly loud – woe to anyone within line of fire of Andy MacFarlane’s Marshall stack without earplugs. Epic and exceptional.
Spinner chats with Brakes’ Eamon Hamilton.
Photos: The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Brakes @ The El Mocambo – October 10, 2009
MP3: The Twilight Sad – “Reflection Of The Television”
MP3: The Twilight Sad – “Cold Days From The Birdhouse”
MP3: The Twilight Sad – “That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy”
MP3: We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Quiet Little Voices”
MP3: We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Ships With Holes Will Sink”
MP3: Brakes – “Don’t Take Me To Space (Man)”
MP3: Brakes – “Hold Me In The River”
MP3: Brakes – “Heard About Your Band”
Video: The Twilight Sad – “I Became A Prostitute”
Video: The Twilight Sad – “And She Would Darken The Memory”
Video: We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Roll Up Your Sleeves”
Video: We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Quiet Little Voices”
Video: Brakes – “Don’t Take Me To Space (Man)”
Video: Brakes – “Hey Hey”
Video: Brakes – “Beatific Visions”
Video: Brakes – “Cease & Desist”
Video: Brakes – “Hold Me In The River”
Video: Brakes – “All Night Disco Party”
MySpace: The Twilight Sad
The Yorkshire Evening Post and Wales Online talk to Fanfarlo, who kept a tour diary for Drowned In Sound on their recent UK tour. They’re currently stringing together more US dates for November but the dates and routing I’ve heard so far don’t offer much hope for a Toronto date.
Artrocker chats with Sky Larkin, who will be at the Cameron House on October 28. They made a tour documentary their last time through North American back in the Spring and will be making it available on their website starting tomorrow. I’ll link it up here when it’s live, but in the meantime there’s some outtakes up at Vimeo. Entertainingly, the Twitter hookup that they and Narduwar mention? That was me.
Paste declares Noah & The Whale their band of the week. Their new record First Days Of Spring is out tomorrow and they play Toronto on October 31 – an in-store at Criminal Records and a full show at the Horseshoe.
Little Boots clears up some rumours about herself and her music to Spinner. The Tenori-On? All for show. Scandalous! andPop also got an interview with Victoria Hesketh during her recent visit to Toronto.
Fazer interviewed James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers at prior to their show at the Phoenix last week. Bradfield also gave Pitchfork a list of favourite albums from throughout his life. Finally, RCRDLBL is offering a free download of Patrick Wolf’s contribution to the remix version of Journal For Plague Lovers, which I thought was going to be available on CD but I can only find on iTunes.
Billboard reports that deluxe versions of His’N’Hers, Different Class and This Is Hardcore which I’ve gone on about are going to be released in the US on November 17. This is interesting because I assumed they were already available in the US, since they were out in Canada since 2006. But hey, good news for those Stateside who don’t have these yet because the bonus discs on Different Class and Hardcore are wholly worth the price of admission. And I’m intending to pick up the His’N’Hers one soon enough.