Thursday, November 10th, 2011
Breaks In The Armor
Crooked Fingers and Strand Of Oaks at The Drake Underground in Toronto
Frank YangSo, let’s see. Crooked Fingers were just here back in July – yeah, covered that. Oh, but in the interim, they also released a new album in Breaks In The Armor; covered that too. So was there really anything new to report out of Tuesday night’s show at the Drake Underground? Actually, yes.
To begin with there was opener Strand Of Oaks, who definitely merit discussion. I’d been familiar with the project of Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Tim Showalter for a little while – his 2010 album Pope Killdragon coming highly recommended from a number of directions – but hadn’t caught him live on any of his previous visits to Toronto. And I almost didn’t catch this one as he started his set at least 15 minutes earlier than had been scheduled, but walking into the Underground to the sounds of Showalter and his two bandmates weaving some mesmerizing space-folk, I was extra thankful that traffic had been light.
Pope Killdragon was an impressive work – lyrically rich and emotionally resonant – but despite pushing beyond the voice-and-guitar template, was a pretty stark-sounding affair. Live, with two guitars, a bass and a small army of technology at their respective toes and fingers for triggering and controlling a multitude of backing tracks, it was a much richer and haunting sonic experience with the songs being lifted up on a bed of echoes and swells. I’ve heard some comparisons made between Strand Of Oaks and Bon Iver; they’re fair, though with less falsetto and vocoder. If you dig what Justin Vernon does, do yourself a favour and investigate Strand Of Oaks. And if you don’t, well, check them out anyways.
July’s Crooked Fingers felt special in the way that performances that take place outside the regular touring cycle for an album often do; more experimenting, more deep cuts, more unpredictability. What with the band consisting solely of Eric Bachmann and Liz Durrett at that point, it was necessarily simpler in arrangement but still a stirring showcase for Bachmann’s career so far. This time out they were formally touring in support of Breaks and added a rhythm section for the occasion but rather than show off benefits of the extra hands right off, Bachmann stepped offstage as soon as he got there and into the audience to open with a gorgeous, unamplified “Man O’ War”. Plugging in, the band would showcase much of the new record alongside selections from the entirety of the Crooked Fingers catalog, all tweaked and subtly adjusted to sit perfectly alongside each other despite the broad stylistic shifts between the albums from whence they came.
As memorable as the last show was, it was great to have the muscle of the rhythm section overtop the skeleton presented in the Summer this time out. Besides the obvious extra infusion of energy, the songs were able to loosen up and breathe more and Bachmann given the freedom to rock out more on guitar where he saw fit. The additional personnel also allowed them to explore more complex arrangements of songs – sure, it would/could have been simpler to arrange everything for two guitars, bass and drums and it probably would have sounded great, but you have to appreciate the creative choices such as Durrett’s more felt than heard keyboard contributions or the way that Bachmann started “The Counterfeiter” instrumentless and then jumped onto keyboards for the last verse while the bass carried the chords. Sure, that’s how it goes down on Armor, arrangements-wise, but watching it done live gives you a new appreciation for it all.
Just as they did mid-set in July, Bachmann and Durrett led off the encore with an intimate, unamplified “Your Control” and proved that there was an upside to a band as great as this playing criminally undersized rooms. On the other hand, the unscheduled guest appearance of a mouse running across the floor during “Lonesome Warrior” reminded that there’s something to be said for playing nicer venues as well. To close, Bachmann acquiesced to an earlier request and made the requisite Archers Of Loaf song in the set a beautiful “Chumming The Ocean”, a song I’d not heard before but won’t soon forget. It’s been a recurring theme through this year, what with the return of Archers Of Loaf and the new Crooked Fingers record, but man. Eric Bachmann. He should be on postage stamps.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an interview with Eric Bachmann.
Photos: Crooked Fingers, Strand Of Oaks @ The Drake Underground – November 8, 2011
MP3: Crooked Fingers – “Typhoon”
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: Strand Of Oaks – “Bonfire”
MP3: Strand Of Oaks – “End In Flames”
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: Strand Of Oaks – “Last To Swim”
Video: Tom Waits – “Satisfied”
The Quietus has a final interview with Michael Stipe of R.E.M., whose career-capping/ending compilation Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011 is out next week. You can stream it in whole right now at NPR, including the two of three final new songs from the band. Over at Under The Radar, actress Kirsten Dunst explains how the screen test-like video for their last single, “We All Go Back To Where We Belong”, came about.
The Mountain Goats have given away a free unreleased track, just because.