Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
Chapterhouse, Ulrich Schnauss and Fjord Rowboat at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangOne might think that after last weekend’s three-day salute to the ’90s I’d be ready to get back to the 21st century, musically-speaking, but instead last Wednesday night turned the dial on the wayback-machine even further – Chapterhouse was in town. The North American leg of their reunion tour, which began in late 2009, was delayed from May until this Fall due to volcanic ash though the Toronto show was cancelled earlier for reasons unknown. Hogtown was back on for the new dates, however, and at a larger venue no less that was respectably filled. Clearly whatever reason nixed the original date wasn’t lack of interest.
For anyone with even a passing affection for the British shoegazing movement of the early ’90s, it was hard not to be interested – My Bloody Valentine aside, this was the only first-wave shoegaze band in recent memory to reunite, let alone play shows in North America, in well over a decade (if anyone wants to fact-check that statement, feel free). And while Chapterhouse weren’t as seminal – in my eyes/ears, anyways – as the likes of Ride, Slowdive or Lush, their credentials are indisputable and their debut Whirlpool an essential listen for the genre. Which is basically another way of saying, “if you are a shoegaze fan and Chapterhouse come to your town, you go”.
Locals Fjord Rowboat know how that goes, but for them it was “if Chapterhouse comes to your town, you lend them your gear and open for them”. Which they did, and in return got to play an impressive show for probably a more receptive audience than they’ve ever had. I used Chapterhouse as a reference point their 2007 debut Saved The Compliments For Morning and that still holds for the just-released follow-up Under Cover Of Brightness, the band remaining faithful to the spirit of shoegazing while remembering, unlike many modern-day purveyors of the style, that what made the greats great was that underneath the layers of sound, there were solid songs. And in the interests of disclosure, I should mention that Fjord has two former bandmates in their number. High five!
I’d lived the Ulrich Schnauss experience twice before and thought I’d figured out the secret to appreciating his electro-ambient stuff – close your eyes. Then you don’t notice that the entire “live” set consists of Schnauss playing preprogrammed tracks off his laptop while adding keyboards overtop or mixing things in real-time, or at least I assume that’s what he was doing – I couldn’t actually hear anything changing in the mix as he clicked and fiddled. This time his set came with its own visual component – projections of European urban scenes, mostly looking as though they’d been filmed from a moving car, which held ones interest for a while but after they began to loop, one’s attention began to wander. By the end, I had a new way to enjoy Schnauss’ set – as a particularly cosmic soundtrack to a game of iPhone Civilization.
One of the first thing you notice about Chapterhouse is how young they all still look – all five are barely 40 (if even) and frontmen Andrew Sherriff and Stephen Patman still look remarkably boyish. This is less a comment on their skin care regimen than the fact that they were barely into their twenties (if even) when Whirlpool was released and so, returning to Toronto for the first time in nearly 20 years, they still seemed younger than many acts making their debuts. Also setting them apart from many other acts on the road today was the fact that they weren’t out trying to win over new fans or make a name for themselves – if you were there, you knew why and what you were going to get and were just happy to be there. This isn’t to suggest that the bar for performance was lowered at all, but any mistakes or less-than-perfection – and there was some, in the way of feedback (the bad kind, not the good kind), some awkward re-learning of songs onstage and a “Crystal” that wasn’t as tight or together as you’d want – were quickly and easily forgiven.
Instead, it was much easier to focus on the good. There was the seemingly endless rotation of my favourite guitars and the massive sounds the three guitarists coaxed out of them, including Simon Rowe whose status in Mojave 3 is as unclear as the band’s itself and who missed their last tour. There was their cover of The Beatles’ “Rain”, which got a pass on my usual “no Beatles covers please” rule, their pretty much perfect rendering of “Pearl” – more than making up for “Crystal” – and a set list that, while curiously light on their second album Blood Music, delivered almost all of Whirlpool and a selection of b-sides and rarities that they must have known would be appreciated by an audience of the faithful.
While they were hardly monsters of rock onstage, it was hard to imagine that their performances inspired the originally-derisive “shoegaze” label – sure, Rowe stood pretty much stock-still through the set but Sherriff and Patman moved around and hardly glanced at their feet. Of course, unlike many of their peers Chapterhouse have always been as much about the groove as the wall of sound, sometimes referred to as “baggy-gaze” and moving further towards dance and electronic sounds with Blood Music. None of which makes them sound any more contemporary, but no one was here for contemporary. We were here for 1990 and Chapterhouse brought it.
Photos: Chapterhouse, Ulrich Schnauss, Fjord Rowboat @ Lee’s Palace – October 6, 2010
MP3: Chapterhouse – “Pearl”
MP3: Ulrich Schnauss – “Passing By”
MP3: Fjord Rowboat – “Carried Away”
MP3: Fjord Rowboat – “Paragon”
Video: Chapterhouse – “Breather”
Video: Chapterhouse – “April”
Video: Ulrich Schnauss – “Medusa”
Video: Fjord Rowboat – “Carried Away”
MySpace: Fjord Rowboat
NPR talks to Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian. He and his band are at Massey Hall tonight and their new album Write About Love is also out today – the promo TV talk show put together for the record is streaming at PitchforkTV and the performance of “I Want The World To Stop” from said programme has been excerpted as the first official video from the record.
Drowned In Sound has gone a little British Sea Power-crazy, what with the release of the new Zeus EP in advance of next year’s new full-length – they’ve commissioned a number of features from the band, including their top five UK castles, ten things they wish they hadn’t done, the joy of knitting and a guide to keeping amused on the road.
Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes takes to the band’s blog to thank fans for their support as he convalesces from surgery for a brain tumour while Clash talks to frontman Tim Burgess. A track from their new record Who We Touch has been made available to download.
Video: Kele – “On The Lam”
Video: Foals – “Blue Blood”
6 Day Riot have a video for the first single from their forthcoming record On This Island, available in the UK on November 1.
Video: 6 Day Riot – “Take Me Out”
Video: Kate Nash – “Later On”
For whatever reason, the powers that be have decided that the UK video for La Roux’s “In For The Kill”, out for over a year, just won’t cut it for American audiences and have commissioned a new one. I guess their focus groups demanded more snakes, less cars.
Word is Johnny Flynn’s October 18 show at Lee’s Palace has been postponed until mid-November; all other shows on the North American jaunt, including the 19th in Montreal, appear to still be on, so no idea what the problem with T.O. is. Anyone else hear “Kentucky Pill” on last week’s Weeds? Of course not, because no one with any dignity should admit to watching Weeds anymore. Me, I just heard about it. On the Twitter. Yeah.