Monday, October 26th, 2009
White Rabbits, Suckers and The Balconies at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangWhite Rabbits have got it covered in the name-dropping department. Via TBD Records, they’re labelmates with a little British outfit called Radiohead and their critically-hailed second album It’s Frightening was produced by Britt Daniel, who sometimes moonlights in a band popular in some circles called Spoon. Yeah, the Brooklyn sextet have got plenty of ammo for cocktail parties, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you much about their actual music, does it.
Well the Britt Daniel part does, somewhat. It’s Frightening certainly borrows from Spoon’s dry, lean and punchy aesthetic and frontman Stephen Patterson’s voice does have a familiarly hoarse, wound-up quality, but dismiss them as Spoon-alikes at your peril. Not, like, “mortal danger” peril but “you’re missing out on a pretty great record” peril. Frightening kicks off with “Percussion Gun”, an intense bit of truth in advertising powered by the thundering tribal attack of the band’s dual drummers – one on a conventional kit, the other tasked with exponentially increasing the impact via big-ass toms. Add in Patterson’s aggressive piano (piano can indeed be aggressive) and howling vox and you’ve got not only one of the best opening tracks on any album this year, but maybe one of the best singles and videos. Translation, it’s impossible to not want to hear more of the record after that first salvo. And while It’s Frightening never quite reaches those heights again, it takes those same elements that make “Percussion Gun” such a blast and turns it into an undeniably solid record that crackles with energy that you just know would translate fantastically on stage. Toronto finally got a chance to find out if that was true on Saturday night when the band made their Hogtown debut at the Horseshoe with fellow Brooklyners Suckers in tow.
Rounding out the bill and providing the local flavour were recent The Balconies, recently transplanted from Ottawa and already becoming live fixtures and certainly one of the better/best new bands in the city. They again proved this to be true with their opening set, showcasing their terrific energy, razor-wire hooky tunes and the dueling sibling vocals of Jacqui and Steve Neville. Though there were a couple technical and performance flubs, I’d still put this performance as even better than when I saw them in August in terms of delivery and charisma, implying that as good as they already are they’re just going to get better. And that’s a scary thing. Find out for yourself at their next local gig on November 5, again at the Horseshoe, opening up for Dog Day and Immaculate Machine.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about Suckers for months – mostly in a breathless, “oh my god, have you heard?” context – but had managed to not familiarize myself with them right up until the quartet took the stage. And after they left, I wasn’t grabbing people around me at random, breathlessly asking, “oh my god have you heard Suckers?” because, well, if they were right there then they would have, but I was pretty impressed. To say they have a lot going on is an understatement – all four are multi-instrumentalists, changing up instruments between guitars, electronics, percussion and brass, often in the same song, and taking turns with their distinct vocals or harmonizing in a way that probably shouldn’t work but sounds fantastic regardless. And that sentiment largely applied to their music at large – a collision of sounds and styles ranging from rock to soul to pyschedelia to gospel that by rights, should be a multi-car pileup but instead becomes a ballet. Not everything they did tickled my ear, but it did make a unique impression.
To answer the earlier posed question, yes indeed, the energy of It’s Frightening does indeed come to life on stage – and then some. Their set was pretty much a non-stop barrel ride through their two records, delivered with ferocious energy and no small amount of sweat. The band’s precision and rhythmic power was astonishing and watching them perform gave an even greater appreciation for the band’s musicianship. In particular, guitarist Gregory Roberts should get more credit for his vocal contributions (or maybe he already does, just not from me) and his ability to double Patterson’s leads or harmonize, depending on what’s needed – it may seem like just another cog in a complex musical machine, but it’s really a crucial element. And Patterson, even seated at an electric travel upright piano (not just a keyboard) as he was for most of the set, managed to inject a lot of physicality in his performance and while unable to match his bandmates’ stage wanderings, did get to partake in some instrument swapping in strapping a guitar on for a couple of tunes. As expected, “Percussion Gun” closed out the main set was the highlight of the night, putting the crowd into mosh mode for a few minutes. I wouldn’t even say that it was a conscious decision, but as most were already in a constant state of dancing/bobbing from the insistent rhythms, when hit with the big song, there was only one place to go – into the people around them. The band returned for a couple more songs and called it a night, closing out a tremendously solid night of rock. Add the band’s first show in Toronto to the list of things they can brag about t their next cocktail party.
Photos: White Rabbits, Suckers, The Balconies @ The Horsesehoe – October 24, 2009
MP3: White Rabbits – “Percussion Gun”
MP3: White Rabbits – “Kid On My Shoulders”
MP3: White Rabbits – “Percussion Gun” (live on MySpace Transmissions)
MP3: White Rabbits – “Rudie Fails” (live on MySpace Transmissions)
MP3: Suckers – “It Gets Your Body Movin'”
MP3: The Balconies – “300 Pages”
MP3: The Balconies – “Smells Like Secrets”
Video: White Rabbits – “Percussion Gun”
Video: Suckers – “Easy Chairs”
MySpace: White Rabbits
Thanks go out to The Indie Files and Hero Hill for bringing to my attention Worauf wartest du?, a collaboration between Albertan folk singer Rae Spoon and German electronic artist Alexandre Decoupigny which is available to download – presumably with artists approval – over here. And also exciting is the news that Rae Spoon is undertaking a tour of eastern Canada starting in November with a stop at the Rivoli on November 11. You may recall I was quite taken with Spoon’s latest Superioryouareinferior – quite looking forward to seeing him live.
Gentleman Reg is putting out a new EP this Fall entitled Heavy Head. The six songs will be released digitally, two at a a time grouped by theme (covers, b-sides, remixes), starting on November 10 and be available as a complete package as of December 1. The Ontarion has an interview with Reg, who plays the Opera House in support of The Hidden Cameras on December 5.
Great Lake Swimmers will play a special benefit show for War Child on November 5 at the Dakota Tavern, the very thing Sloan did at the same venue just last week. Tickets are $35 and available at Maple Music. They play a regular show at Trinity-St Paul’s on February 6 of next year.
Apparently having still not paid off their ridiculous stage setup, U2 are extending their world tour and will be hitting Toronto for the third time in less than a year on July 3 at the Rogers Centre. Tickets on sale November 2.