Monday, May 13th, 2013
Knock Me On The Head
Stornoway and Field Report at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank Yang2010 wasn’t really that long ago, but apparently it was long enough that I’d just about forgotten about Oxford, England’s Stornoway despite their debut Beachcomber’s Windowsill making it onto my year-end list, helped along by a stellar local live debut that December at the El Mocambo. Which is not to say that I had forgotten them completely or that I liked them, but by the time their follow-up album Tales From Terra Firma came out in mid-March, they’d fallen far enough off the front burner of my memory that I rolled into Thursday night’s show at The Horseshoe driven more by curiosity than excitement.
Support act Field Report, hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and making their Toronto debut, didn’t worry too much about cultivating curiosity from their audience. Playing songs from their self-titled debut, they offered raspy narratives over slow, atmospheric folk tunes dusted from the well-worn roads of Americana. Crafting something fresh didn’t seem to be as of much importance as doing it in great detail, as well as building a rapport with the audience – much time was spent introducing the songs, chatting with the audience, and complimenting the city. Ultimately more charming than memorable.
I’m not normally one to allow Pitchfork to dictate the conversation – at least not ones that I’m having – but that their tepid review of Terra Firma cited a lack of memorable melodies as a one of its chief complaints is just bewildering to me. I may not have spent the time I’d have liked with the record prior to this show, but even the handful of listens I’d given it affirmed it as at least as tuneful as its predecessor, which itself was plenty melodically rich. The reason this came to mind at the show was because when the six-piece band got into full swing – the core quartet were joined by a touring violinist and multi-instrumentalist, both with sheaves of sheet music in front of them – the problem was not trying to find a delicious melody to listen to but choosing which one to concentrate on.
They were like a candy store of folk-pop, every hand and mouth contributing to the glorious rustic orchestra onstage; it was hard to not be drawn to Oli Steadman’s basslines, so much funkier and more prominent in the live mix than on record, Jon Ouin’s textured bed of keyboards or spidery guitar leads, Rob Steadman’s wonderfully creative drum patterns, or Brian Briggs’ gorgeous tenor, often leading immaculate, multi-part harmonies. Listening to any of them in isolation would have been lovely; hearing them in concert with one another was astonishing, even without most of the instruments as on their reading of “The Ones We Hurt The Most”, the four-part harmonies performed perfectly and unaccompanied save for acoustic guitar and single violin. And then there was their use of live wood-chopping as the rhythm bed for “Farewell Appalachia”. Who does that?
The set was split about evenly between the two records, keeping a consistently jaunty pace with occasional spikes of jubilant, yet always sounding elegant and sophisticated. Unlike some more populist acts who could be filed as their peers in the genre, Stornoway don’t need to try to broadcast authenticity with their dress or mannerisms; they’re timeless – not throwback – and just plugged directly into it. And while their audience might not have been as large, they were devoted and clearly in it for the long haul – even those, like myself, who’d temporarily forgotten that they were. But if there was an upside to that memory lapse as to how great Stornoway were, it was that it allowed me to rediscover the fact all over again.
Photos: Stornoway, Field Report @ The Horseshoe – May 9, 2013
MP3: Stornoway – “Fuel Up”
MP3: Stornoway – “On The Rocks”
MP3: Stornoway – “Zorbing”
Video: Stornoway – “The Bigger Picture”
Video: Stornoway – “Knock Me On The Head”
Video: Field Report – “I Am Not Waiting Anymore”
Stream: Vår – “Into Distance”
The livestreamed Savages put on last week to mark the release of their debut Silence Yourself is now available to stream on demand at YouTube; The Creators Project has a Q&A with the performance’s director. They play The Mod Club on July 16.