Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
Crooked Fingers and Megan Bonnell at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangSunday night’s Crooked Fingers show had a number of things going against it. For starters, it was a Sunday night. The Sunday night of a long weekend. The Sunday night of a long weekend during Pride. But what it had going for it was that it was a Crooked Fingers show.
But even for the Eric Bachmann faithful, the show had the stacked against it somewhat for what it wasn’t, and that’s an Archers Of Loaf show. Indeed, only the need to transport gear for the indie rock heroes’ reunion tour from New York to Chicago and the 4th of July long weekend created the opportunity for Bachmann to slip into his post-Archers guise and decompress for a few northeastern dates. And though the existence of a new Crooked Fingers record had been confirmed, October is still ages away and their last proper album Forfeit/Fortune was already three years old. So really, rather than pout that the Archers roadshow wasn’t yet finding its way north of the border, we should have felt fortunate that we were getting a visit at all – particularly since Crooked Fingers’ last two shows were supporting slots for Neko Case and Okkervil River; there was an Eric Bachmann-villed show in 2006 but the last time the words “Crooked Fingers” graced a Toronto sandwich board was over six years ago. Which is to say, far too long.
Opening things up was local singer-songwriter Megan Bonnell, showing off her brand new EP Maps. Performing on keyboard and backed only by a drummer, Bonnell was notable for her ability to invoke cabaret-like dramatics without slipping into easy melodrama and slightly unconventional voice and phrasing. Her set was different enough from what you might expect from a girl-and-piano setup to force you to suspend preconceptions and pay attention and for first impressions, that’s really all you can ask for.
Every time I’ve seen either Crooked Fingers or Eric Bachmann live, it’s been a different configuration of players and instruments from solo to six-piece; this time out, it was just as a duo – Eric Bachmann and Liz Durrett. Accordingly, the show had a stripped-down and intimate vibe, helped along by the fact that there weren’t but even a hundred people in attendance. But instead of being disappointed with the turnout, Bachmann seemed rather cheered by the attentiveness of the audience as he fully explored his extensive songbook. Unsurprisingly, the sparser sounds of the self-titled debut, Bring On The Snakes and Bachmann’s 2006 solo effort To The Races made up the bulk of the set, but the representatives from the more fully-arranged Crooked Fingers records served as set highlights. Though possessed of a softer voice than either Lara Meyerratken or Neko Case, her turns as duet partner to Bachmann’s big, gruff voice on Dignity & Shame‘s “Sleep All Summer” and Forfeit/Fortune‘s “Your Control” – the latter performed unamplified into the club – were stunning.
There was also some new material previewed, though not as much as I might have expected. Considering that the new record was recorded with just Bachmann and Durrett as the principals, what was heard probably wasn’t far off from what we can expect from Breaks In The Armor when it’s released on October 11 and as such, fans of the aesthetic of the early records will probably be pleased. One of the new songs, “Bad Blood”, was introduced as the breakthrough hit and when it brings in the big bank, Bachmann promised to buy everyone in attendance big dogs; I suspect that he was being sarcastic but I do hope it reaches the top of the charts – I want my Great Dane. Other promises made – and more likely to be fulfilled – were to return after the album was released and, most excitingly, to bring Archers Of Loaf to town in the new year sometime around March. As a teaser and as he’s done on past visits, he gave us a stripped-down version of “Web In Front” but if you need something to look forward to for next Spring – well there you go. And in the meantime, there’ll be the memory of this gorgeous and special show to hold us over.
Exclaim also took in the show and has some thoughts. Fairfield Weekly has a talk with Bachmann about how close he came to calling it quits, what he’s been up to the last few years and what the new record will bring and New York Magazine and Spinner talk to him about the return of Archers Of Loaf.
Photos: Crooked Fingers, Megan Bonnell @ The Horseshoe – July 3, 2011
MP3: Crooked Fingers – “Phony Revolutions”
MP3: Crooked Fingers – “Angelina”
MP3: Crooked Fingers – “Big Darkness”
MP3: Crooked Fingers – “Devil’s Train”
MP3: Crooked Fingers – “When You Were Mine”
MP3: Crooked Fingers – “New Drink For The Old Drunk”
MP3: Eric Bachmann – “Carrboro Woman”
MP3: Eric Bachmann – “Lonesome Warrior”
MP3: Megan Bonnell – “South Korea”
Video: Crooked Fingers – “Let’s Not Pretend (To Be New Men)”
Video: Crooked Fingers – “New Drink For The Old Drunk”
Video: Eric Bachmann – “Man ‘O War”
Video: Eric Bachmann – “Lonesome Warrior”
Video: Megan Bonnell – “South Korea”
NPR welcomes Steve Earle for a World Cafe session, while American Songwriter, Houston Press and The Vancouver Sun have feature pieces on the singer-songwriter. The Molson Amphitheatre welcomes Steve Earle as opener for Blue Rodeo on August 20.
Video: Of Montreal – “L’age d’or”