Monday, September 20th, 2010
Cloak And Cipher
Land Of Talk and Suuns at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangA lot can happen in twenty months. God knows my life is completely different (and yet in many was maddeningly the same) from what it was when I last saw Land Of Talk live, in January 2009 at The Horseshoe. Liz Powell and a different crew from which I’d first discovered them 30 months prior were wrapping up support for their debut full-length Some Are Lakes and preparing for an indefinite hiatus as Powell had to tend to some medical issues and write a new record.
With that record – Cloak And Cipher – the pretense of Land Of Talk as a conventional band was dropped in favour of acting as a pseudonym for Powell and whomever she’s collaborating with to bring the songs to life. And though they emerged as a traditional power trio antidote to the big band sprawl that afflicted so much of Canadian indie, the benefits of having whatever sounds and players are needed on hand to do the job have been borne out by records that get better and better with each release.
And it’s not as though the players being called in are a random assortment of ringers. Just as they did in that January 2009 performance, the openers at Lee’s Palace on Thursday night were also part of Land Of Talk though you wouldn’t have known it from the name. Also undergoing a transformation or two during the past year and a half were Suuns, who were formerly known as Zeroes and who went from veritable unknowns to signees to one of the bigger US independent labels, Secretly Canadian. And hearing them play, it was pretty clear what SC saw in them; a year and half ago, they impressed with their recipe for poppy/proggy, electronically-tinted No Wave/post-punk but that was more for the potential on display than the actual product – their sound felt very much like a work in progress. Now, with a new name and a full-length album entitled Zeroes QC in the can and set for October 12 release, that work feels much more complete, coherent and unique, managing to be aggressive without being alienating and as appealing to the head as to the ass. I would say these guys are officially a band to watch.
And those on hand would get to watch them again immediately after they finished up because they would comprise more than half of Land Of Talk. It’s funny that a band who emerged as a power trio antidote – even when revolving players – to the sprawling band phenomenon that still afflicts so much of Canadian indie would now be taking the stage themselves as a collective. While the formal membership of the band is essentially down to one, the band is bigger than ever – Land Of Talk: population seven, including at its largest two drummers, three guitars, keyboardist and bassist. But at the centre of it all, as ever, was Powell and aside from having the best haircut I’ve seen her sport in four years plus, she hadn’t changed – a bit awkward yet undeniably charismatic, still given to extended tuning breaks despite having a rack of guitars on hand and by and large sounding great in the new big band context.
Naturally, the set drew heavily from Cloak And Cipher but surprisingly, only a few from Some Are Lakes. Also surprising were that last year’s excellent but under-distributed Fun & Laughter EP got a couple songs on the set list but less surprising were that “16*” and “May You Never” would be two of the show’s highlights – that release boasts some of the best tunes Land Of Talk has ever put out. Fail to seek it out at your peril. And interestingly, they would strip the lineup down to a core trio – the same as at that Horseshoe show – for the Applause Cheer Boo Hiss material, perhaps respecting that those songs were just right the way they were originally conceived and wouldn’t benefit from that second kick drum underneath or a second (or third) guitar.
And perhaps the most important thing that’s changed in the past 20 months is that Land Of Talk have, apparently, gotten big. Not breakout runaway success big, but Lee’s Palace was pretty well packed with enthusiastic punters and there was an energy and excitement about the show that I’d not felt at one of their shows before. Granted, a cover story in a national magazine can’t hurt, but it felt more like despite more than their fair share of setbacks, years of hard work were finally really paying off. Land Of Talk certainly knew what they were doing, scheduling the first date of their Fall tour in Toronto – you couldn’t ask for a more confidence-boosting send-off than this one.
Photos: Land Of Talk, Suuns @ Lee’s Palace – September 16, 2010
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Quarry Hymns”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Swift Coin”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “May You Never”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Some Are Lakes”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Corner Phone”
MP3: Suuns – “Up Past The Nursery”
MP3: Suuns – “Arena”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Quarry Hymns”
Video: Land Of Talk – “It’s Okay”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Troubled”
Video: Land Of Talk – “The Man Who Breaks Things (Dark Shuffle)”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Some Are Lakes”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Speak To Me Bones”
ZIP: Suuns / Zeroes
MySpace: Land Of Talk
Video: Shad – “We, Myself & I”
Video: Neil Young – “Hitchhiker”
eye, Spinner and The Globe & Mail participate in the annual Polaris Music Prize credibility hand-wringing, of which I’m sure I’ll find more of as the day progresses. It’s become like a tailgate party to the actual award. And for a proper tailgate party/viewing experience, head over to the Drake Hotel tonight as they’ll be screening the gala live and also play host to the afterparty, where winners, losers and jurors will mingle in epic awkwardness.