Thursday, April 18th, 2013
Thick As Thieves
Widowspeak and The Auras at The Garrison in Toronto
Frank YangObjectively speaking, there’s not a world of difference between Widowspeak’s 2011 self-titled debut or the follow-up Almanac, released in January of this year. You can file them both quite comfortably under “the soundtrack to dreams of dusty country roads”, not too far from lazy but not inaccurate reference points Mazzy Star and Cat Power, but something about Almanac grabs me the way that Widowspeak, as much as I dug it, didn’t. And it’s not something as simple as they’re getting more dynamic or rocking out harder, as refresher listens to their debut confirm there’s no shortage of volume spikes amidst the sleepiness. There’s just something more present, more assured, in Almanac‘s grooves – like lucid dreaming versus wake-walking. Whatever it is, I love it, and so their show at The Garrison on Monday night – their first non-festival headline date in Toronto – was a must-go on my calendar.
Local support came from The Auras, signed to Toronto’s Optical Sounds and labelmates with B-17, whom I’d just seen just a few days earlier; if there’s some sort of shadow conspiracy to get me more attuned with the city’s psych-pop scene… then it’s working. Mind you, The Auras didn’t impress the same way that B-17 did, but they’re not really built to. Comprised of fresh-faced youngsters rather than scene veterans, they were a bit of a mish-mash visually – a mass of paisley, headbands, shaggy hair, tassels, and with half the six-piece band in sunglasses, all bathed in their a bring-your-own light show. Sonically, they felt more like a a psychedelic jam session, rotating through four lead vocalists and possessing more of vague mandate to sound like a more shambolic, polite Black Angels than a firm mission statement. Understand that this is not a complaint, but actually more a point of envy. Having a group of like-minded players to jam, gig, and record with sounds like the best thing ever, actually.
I saw Widowspeak twice last year – in the same room at NXNE and a few months earlier at SXSW – but this time there was a new rhythm section in place and a fifth member in the fold on guitar and keys. The heart of the band, however – Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas – were still there, ever front and centre. Opening with Almanac leadoff “Perennials”, the template for the show was quickly established – Hamilton serenely cooing into the mic while Thomas got to play the role of guitar hero, although he would have been more effective at it had his guitar not been the quietest of the three on stage; a little more volume would have helped his leads achieve the prominence they deserved and might also have quieted the reasonably-sized if disproportionately chatty crowd audience.
As the show progressed, the chatter either diminished or the genuinely interested moved up to the front – in either case, they were drawn in by the performance, which maintained the same basic rhythm through the better part of an hour, offering a good mix of Almanac and Widowspeak material though sadly omitting two of my favourite new songs, “Devil Knows” and “Spirit Is Willing”. They did shift gears slightly towards the end with a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” – yeah, having Hamilton wrap her voice around it is a bit on the nose, but still gorgeous – and a keyboard-led “Thick As Thieves”, before closing with a relatively raucous “Ballad Of The Golden Hour” and “Harsh Realm”. An encore wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but Hamilton was enticed to come back out for a final number, a reading of “Limbs” done solo because the rest of the band didn’t know how to play it, and were also busy selling merch off to the side. A modest finale to a modest yet wholly enjoyable show.
Photos: Widowspeak, The Auras @ The Garrison – April 16, 2013
MP3: Widowspeak – “Ballad Of The Golden Hour”
MP3: Widowspeak – “Sore Eyes”
MP3: Widowspeak – “Gun Shy”
MP3: Widowspeak – “In The Pines”
MP3: Widowspeak – “Devil Knows”
MP3: Widowspeak – “Harsh Realm”
Video: Widowspeak – “Locusts”
Stream: The Auras / The Auras
Not necessarily enough show announcements this week to devote a post, but still a few things of note. Seattle’s Cave Singers will bring their new album Naomi – released last month – to town for a show at The Horseshoe on June 17, tickets $15. There’s a feature on the band at 85-26.
California’s Rogue Wave are back with a new record in Nightingale Floors coming out on June 4, and are teaming up with Brooklyn’s Caveman, who just released their second self-titled album, for a Summer tour that hits The Mod Club on June 25, tickets $18.50/.
Another bi-coastal bill will team Californian psych-pop outfit Woods, still working last Fall’s Bend Beyond, with New York ’90s indie rock revivalists Parquet Courts and their debut Light Up Gold for a date at The Horseshoe on July 17, tickets $15.50.
Consequence Of Sound, Spinner, Vulture, and Spin talk to Thermals frontman Hutch Harris and PopMatters to drummer Westin Glass about their just-released new record Desperate Ground, and they also talk to The AV Club and Clash respectively about action movies. The Thermals are at The Horseshoe on May 21.
Ra Ra Riot is streaming the single they’ll be releasing for Record Store Day this Saturday via T Magazine. The Alternate Side also has a session with the band, who are here on May 25 at The Sound Academy supporting The Shins, then back for the Field Trip fest at Garrison Commons on June 8.
Stream: Ra Ra Riot – “All I Fear”
Stereogum has a stream of The Hold Steady’s contribution to this week’s Game Of Thrones closing credits, while Wired examines the intersection of the kingdoms of Westeros and the world of indie rock. The Hold Steady are here as part of the Toronto Urban Roots Fest on July 6 at Garrison Commons.
Video: Low – “Just Make It Stop”
Okkervil River’s Will Sheff has squeezed another video out of his Lovestreams side-project.