Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
Neil Halstead and Jim Hanft with Samantha Yonack at The Dakota Tavern in Toronto
Frank YangIt’s really a travesty that Neil Halstead’s isn’t venerated as a musical trailblazer. This is, after all, a man whose work in Slowdive was groundbreaking for both the shoegazing and ambient electronic genres and who created some of the finest alt.country moments from the UK via Mojave 3, the say nothing of the increasingly deep catalog of works under his own name, most recently with Palindrome Hunches. And yet for the recognition that he should but mostly does not get, he seemed perfectly content to just roll into the Dakota Tavern on Monday evening, guitar in hand, to play some songs and just play some songs. Must be that surfer lifestyle.
Supporting Halstead on these dates was Californian Jim Hanft, who in turn brought with him collaborator Samantha Yonack. Hanft offered up some decent singer-songwriter fare, and any points deducted for having an overly affected rasp and twang in his delivery was made up for by his genial demeanour and willingness to move around and make use of the stage. For her part, Yonack earned her almost-equal billing both with her harmonies and impromptu roadie skills, on display when Hanft accidentally unplugged his guitar during one of the aforementioned wanders. Not the most memorable stuff, but pleasant enough.
Halstead was last here in November 2008 for Oh! Mighty Engine, and just like his solo record have gotten progressively more stripped-down, so to has his live show become simpler in execution. Whereas that show featured a couple backing players, this time Halstead was joined by an accompanist on only a handful of songs – crucially so, with the simple bass, guitar, and piano embellishments adding a lot – but mostly just himself. And as always, that’s all he really needed.
As is typical with his solo shows, the set was divided up fairly evenly between solo and Mojave 3 material, though I think that the balance this time out leaned more to the band material. Playing without a written-out set list, Halstead was agreeable to shouted requests and surprisingly to me, whose fandom stretches back to the Slowdive days, a lot of the requests were for his solo material (and one request for “Souvlaki Space Stating” was indulged to the point of playing the opening chords and demonstrating that he had a delay pedal handy). I suppose that made sense with the crowd being younger than I would have expected – these people weren’t Slowdive or Mojave 3 fans first, but Neil Halstead fans. What a thing it must be to have three distinct and beloved catalogs to work from. The audience also gave Halstead a song back, singing him, “Happy Birthday” in honour of his turning 42 the day before.
Though Mojave 3 had technically been in action this year – some lineup had played a few gigs in China, of all places, this Summer – it had been a good six years since they last toured through and it was so great to hear those songs again: “Prayer For The Paranoid”, “Who Do You Love”, “In Love With A View”, “Some Kinda Angel”, “Life In Art”… all moments of gorgeousness that I’d somehow let slip from my memory. In addition to refreshing my Mojave affections, my appreciation for Halstead’s solo works also increased as the performance went on – it’s easy to begrudge those solo records for not being Mojave 3 or Slowdive records, for not showcasing Halstead’s talents at crafting widescreen sonic landscapes, but that would ignore just how good a pure songwriter Halstead now is, and how he doesn’t necessarily need all that presentation to make beautiful and affecting music.
After closing the main set with a gorgeous, “Full Moon Rising” off of Palindrome Hunches, Halstead returned and soliciting more requests, addressed the Slowdive reunion question which he himself set up in August – fitting, since this was the city that hosted the final two Slowdive shows in 1994. And while I’d like to think that it was all part of a carefully planned campaign to lead up to an official return in the near future, his explanation that he was being interviewed at 7AM in China and that a Slowdive return had never officially been off the table but wasn’t necessarily any closer to a reality than it ever was seemed more likely; he closed the discussion by suggesting those really keen on it happening should petition Rachel Goswell for it to happen, and then for the first time since I’ve been seeing either him or Mojave 3 live – some 13 years – he played a Slowdive song. And then another. His solo acoustic arrangement of “Alison” had already surfaced thanks to the free tour EP at Noisetrade, but the rendition of “40 Days” was new to my ears and beautiful. The magic the man can work with just the addition of a delay pedal is remarkable; someone needs to hand him a Telecaster, stat. “Hi-Lo and In Between” from Sleeping On Roads closed the show after a good hour forty-five and Halstead bid farewell, at least until the next time.
Photos: Neil Halstead, Jim Hanft with Samantha Yonack @ The Dakota Tavern – October 8, 2012
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Tied To You”
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Digging Shelters”
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Full Moon Rising”
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Paint A Face”
MP3: Neil Halstead – “Two Stones In My Pocket”
MP3: Mojave 3 – “In Love With A View”
MP3: Mojave 3 – “Return To Sender”
Video: Neil Halstead – “Hey Daydreamer”
Video: Neil Halstead – “Digging Shelters”
Video: Neil Halstead – “Elevenses”
Video: Neil Halstead – “Witless Or Wise”
Video: Neil Halstead – “Paint A Face”
Video: Neil Halstead – “Queen Bee”
Video: Mojave 3 – “Breaking The Ice”
Video: Mojave 3 – “Some Kinda Angel”
Video: Mojave 3 – “Love Songs On The Radio”
Video: Jim Hanft – “Television”
Video: Jim Hanft – “Superhero”
Muse will bring whatever ridiculous over-the-top live spectacle they dream up – think “The Wall” – for their new album The 2nd Law to the Air Canada Centre on April 9. NPR has a brief interview with the band.
Video: Muse – “Survival”
Video: Bloc Party – “Kettling”
Video: Echo Lake – “Another Day”
Adele’s theme song for the new James Bond film Skyfall is now available to “watch” via lyric video. Which is kind of like the movie’s opening credits but with lyrics instead of credits and no silhouettes of femme fatales. It opens in North American on November 9.
Lyric Video: Adele – “Skyfall”