Thursday, October 4th, 2012
Niki & The Dove and Moon King at The Drake Underground in Toronto
Frank YangMaybe it’s because I tend to exist in a very Brit/Scandi/indie-centric music bubble that I figured by the time Niki & The Dove’s first proper North American tour rolled into Toronto, they’d have already been the buzziest thing going; this based on both the power of their performances at Iceland Airwaves last year and at SXSW this Spring, the overall impressiveness of their debut Instinct. So while they did indeed sell out the Drake on Tuesday night, I had expected demand would have moved it to a bigger room, that there’d be people offering to trade their kidneys for ducats on Craigslist, et cetera. Not so. But that’s okay.
I didn’t especially rate them while they were active, but if there comes a day in the not-too-distant future when Spiral Beach are held up as one of those important Toronto bands whose DNA can be found in countless others, I don’t think I’d be surprised. Already the band’s descendants includes Austra and Doldrums, and the for those wondering what former frontwoman Maddy Wilde and drummer Daniel Woodhead have been up to, the evening’s openers Moon King were the answer. But using Spiral Beach as a reference point wouldn’t get you very far, as Wilde has shifted to guitarist and backing vocal duties while Woodhead has stepped out in front of the kit and is now the frontman. Performing as a four-piece with drummer and keyboardist, they put on an impressive set that thanks to Woodhead’s affected feyness and Wilde’s aggressively chorused guitar work, you could reasonably describe as Kevin Barnes fronting a punk rock Cocteau Twins. It’s understandable if you’re unsure that that’s something you’d want to hear, but to my ears it worked quite well. And unlike Spiral Beach, whom I found overly precocious at times, Moon King are happy to indulge their pop instincts and let their talent and inherent eccentricities keep it from getting too obvious. There’s getting to be plenty of “Moon” bands out there, but this one is worth distinguishing and remembering.
You would think that having seen Niki & The Dove twice in the past year would give me a pretty good sense of what to expect from their show, but that was far from the case. This was one of a handful of headlining dates between high-profile support slots for Twin Shadow and Miike Snow, and so they were travelling on the cheap – it was just Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf, no dancers as in Iceland and not even drummer Magnus Böqvist, who accompanied them in Austin. And also, apparently, no lights. Perplexingly, they took the stage in total darkness and remained so for the first two songs – a curious choice for such a visual band, not that the lack of illumination kept Dahlström from dancing while performing – you could see her vague outline doing so. Eventually a single dim spot was raised and the house could get a reasonable look at the Swedish duo, who certainly didn’t look like they had any reason to be hiding, what with Dahlström donning a fancy headdress and some illuminated LED rings for the occasion.
Speaking of visuals, if someone were to look at their stage setup – a haphazard array of keyboards, sequencers, samplers, and guitar pedals but no acoustic instruments besides a single floor tom and snare drum – they might assume that this was a band that would have to adhere to a rigid show structure; after all, laptops aren’t necessarily the best instruments for live improvisation. They would, however, be wrong. Their set was surprisingly jammy with Karlöf taking his time to build and manipulate layers of synthetic sounds before Dahlström would begin singing, and she herself was more than equipped to at her own electronic workstation to add to the sonic melee. Most songs were extended from their album versions to some degree of live remix, often to the benefit of those in the audience who wanted to groove or dance. “Tomorrow” didn’t fare as well as the most anthemic number in their repertoire should have, sounding all out of time with itself, but I wouldn’t assume that it wasn’t deliberate.
Though they expressed some shyness about their English – which was fine, by the way – the duo were genuinely enthused about being in Toronto and the response they go, not least of all because it allowed them to break out a cover that they said they’d been preparing especially for the occasion – a sweet, low-key reading of Joni Mitchell’s, “A Case Of You”. It was a highlight of the hour-long set which closed with a particularly free-form “Drummer”, and for an encore which I’m not entirely sure they were prepared for but that was demanded, an extended “Gentle Roar”. An auspicious debut and even in the dark, they shone.
Photos: Niki & The Dove, Moon King @ The Drake Underground – October 2, 2012
MP3: Niki & The Dove – “Tomorrow”
MP3: Niki & The Dove – “Mother Protect”
MP3: Niki & The Dove – “DJ, Ease My Mind”
MP3: Niki & The Dove – “The Drummer”
MP3: Moon King – “Only Child”
Video: Niki & The Dove – “Dance Floor”
Video: Niki & The Dove – “Tomorrow”
Video: Niki & The Dove – “The Fox”
Video: Niki & The Dove – “DJ Ease My Mind”
Video: Niki & The Dove – “Mother Protect”
Video: Niki & The Dove – “The Drummer”
Video: Moon King – “Only Child”