Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
Dig You Out
Male Bonding, Love Inks, Neon Windbreaker and Huddle at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangA number of things I hadn’t done in a while: gone to a show; gone to a show at The Horseshoe; gone to a show whose bill was filled with bands I’d never seen before. Friday night, I kicked off Labour Day weekend by addressing all three of these things by seeing London’s Male Bonding, Austin’s Love Inks and locals Neon Windbreaker and Huddle. At the ‘Shoe. In case that wasn’t clear. This isn’t to say I had no backstory with the bands. I was in a band with one of Huddle’s guitarists for some years, years ago, and have a couple of friends in the Neon Windbreaker camp – the fact that I’d yet to see either of them play before, despite ample opportunity, kind of speaks volumes about how good a friend I am. But I digress.
I’d been sent a few tracks from Huddle’s Fault Lines EP some time ago and been impressed by how sophisticated it sounded for a band that hadn’t been around for very long, though it was comprised of some experienced players. Since they recorded that sampler, they’ve finished a very accomplished full-length in All These Fires – a debut that’s insidiously catchy at times – and were looking to bring some of that studio savvy onto the stage. And indeed, one of the first things I noticed was the sophistication and attention to detail in their arrangements – little flourishes in the percussion and keyboards that you might not consciously notice but definitely feel in the bigger picture. The electro-pop sheen that’s up front on the recordings was pleasantly roughed up a bit live and the band have got things covered in the polish and pop hooks departments; if there’s a shortcoming it’s in the overall presence – though plenty friendly, they didn’t offer a whole lot of personality up there. This isn’t to suggest that a contrived image would be a step up, but with the songs and musicianship well covered, that would be something to look at next.
And way over at the opposite end of spectrum with a surplus of personality dwells Neon Windbreaker. Originally conceived as a hardcore concept/novelty act, it’s grown – perhaps despite themselves – into a real(ish) band with actual songs and musical proficiency. Well, somewhat – everyone can clearly play even if it’s not called for in this outfit – it’s unclear if frontman Eric Warner can actually sing but he’s got the screaming thing down pretty well – and when they let the anarchic aesthetic drop and allow something genuinely tuneful to come through, it’s surprising and confusing. Again, this may be the point. In any case, they were entertaining and didn’t overstay their welcome, though I suspect their cover of Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” was a bit sloppier than even they intended. Or not.
The stage presence yo-yo went back to its other extreme for the third act of the night, Texan trio Love Inks, and one can only presume their opening cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” was ironic as rocking on was rather the last thing they had in mind. Their sound as captured on debut album ESP is built on live bass and guitar over skeletal, sequenced beats and since Kevin Dehan and Adam Linnell prefer to tend to their duties while standing off the the stage sides, safely ensconced in shadow, the figurative and literal spotlight fell on singer/drum machine triggerer Sherry LaBlanc. Thankfully, her vocal approach is not icy and detached, as so many who ply simliar terrain are, but wide-eyed and emotive and imbuing their songs with some genuine feeling. That said, they were still very low-key in presentation and considering most were there for their decidedly punked-up tourmates, it was just as well their set ran a very efficient half-hour.
On any given day, I might say that Male Bonding are too lo-fi for my tastes, but with the increased sonic clarity and bigger pop hooks on their just-released second album Endless Now over their debut Nothing Hurts, they were very much what I was in the mood for this evening. But though they may have tidied things up in the studio a bit this time out, live they tilted very much back towards the punk side of their equation while retaining just the right amount of airiness in their harmonies and hooks. With the addition of a second guitarist, things were decidedly weightier and louder for both new material and old – the set was split about evenly between both – and propelled by the relentless drumming of Robin Christian. He wasn’t hugely fancy or varied back there, but was unquestionably huge as he laid down a monstrous groove for his bandmates to work in and the four-piece powered through a set of meaty, punk-pop with the unquestionable highlight being the irresistible “Bones”, which must have been exhausting for both the band on stage and dancers in the audience. How they managed to keep playing after that marathon is beyond me, but they did and closed out with a rare (according to them) encore. Then I imagine they went backstage and collapsed.
Photos: Male Bonding, Love Inks, Neon Windbreaker, Huddle @ The Horseshoe – September 2, 2011
MP3: Male Bonding – “Tame The Sun”
MP3: Male Bonding – “Bones”
MP3: Male Bonding – “Franklin”
MP3: Male Bonding – “Year’s Not Long”
MP3: Love Inks – “Blackeye”
MP3: Neon Windbreaker – “Furniture”
MP3: Huddle – “Islands”
Video: Male Bonding – “All Things This Way”
Video: Male Bonding – “Pirate Key”
Video: Male Bonding – “Weird Feelings”
Video: Male Bonding – “Year’s Not Long”
Video: Love Inks – “Blackeye”
Video: Love Inks – “Leather Glove”
With next week being one of the big new release days of the Fall, there’s plenty of much-anticipated records available to preview by way of streams. First, there’s St. Vincent’s latest Strange Mercy, which is up over at NPR. Pitchfork also has a feature interview.
Stream: St. Vincent / Strange Mercy
Stream: Slow Club / Paradise
The second single from Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is now available to stream at NME. It’s on the strength of this and the rest of the self-titled debut, out November 8, that Gallagher will be playing two shows at Massey Hall on November 7 and 8.
Not technically an album stream and certainly not a new release, but video of Bettie Serveert’s recital of their debut Palomine at the Into The Great Wide Open festival in The Netherlands this past weekend is available to watch online. Oh ’90s.