Friday, November 8th, 2013
Yamantaka//Sonic Titan and Jef Barbara at The Garrison in Toronto
Frank YangEven though I was able to wax effusive about UZU, the second album from Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, a few weeks ago, the fact is that was only half the story. Because for Yamantaka, arguably more than most bands, the live presentation is as much a part of what they do as the music itself. It’s one thing to hear the confluence of opera, prog, punk, and metal influences in their music, but it’s another to see them in Japanese Noh costume and face paint, with their stage dressings and lighting effects; it may not be a lavish production, but adds an invaluable dimension to the experience. And so I was pleased to be back at The Garrison on Wednesday night, in the same room where I first saw the Montreal-Toronto collective during NXNE 2012, just as their debut YT//ST was really catching fire and put them on a trajectory that landed them on the 2012 Polaris Prize short list.
Support on this night came from Jef Barbara, who despite coming from a decidedly different place musically with his latest album Soft To The Touch, also understood the value of visuals – hence the impressively sequin-laden jumpsuit and sneakers and flamboyant stage moves the Montrealer wore and executed onstage. Sonically, he and his band offered a very considered and finely-crafted sound akin to early ’80s Bowie/Smiths/Cure trying their hand at R&B and funk and having it come out glam; ingredients you’ve heard before but combined in a way that sounded as fresh as it did familiar. Not everything worked equally well – the extended jam that closed out the eight-song set wasn’t interesting enough to be either a set closer or extended jam – but when it came together, which was frequently, it was quite impressive.
Anyone looking for a material example of how success had changed Yamantaka needed look no further than their stage dressing; rather than the handmade cardboard cut-outs that flanked them for the YT//ST shows, they now had sturdy corrugated plastic sheets with the UZU artwork professionally affixed. But aside from that indulgence, their show was largely unchanged; which is to say it was still great. Vocalists Ruby Kato Attwood and Ange Loft started out circulating in the packed room while their bandmates played an extended overture of “Atalanta”, before taking the stage and kicking off an impressive, straight-through reading of their new album.
And though I wasn’t expecting a full-album recital, it really is the only thing that makes sense. UZU is such a cohesive, integrated work that picking individual songs would be not only difficult, it’d be a disservice to the whole. Only once, early on, did they break the fourth wall and chat with the audience and that was to allow Attwood to warn us that she was feeling ill and would be nursing on 7-11 tea through the show. And while she did audibly pull back with her voice at a few points, it wasn’t at all to the detriment of the show and the power of Loft’s voice more than made up for it. Though it’s Attwood and drummer Alaska B who are the band’s principals, Loft is their secret weapon both vocally and visually.
They could have called it a job well done after the final notes of album and set closer “Saturn’s Return” rang out, the dust from the thundering “One” that preceded it still hanging in the air. But they returned for a four-song encore of YT//ST material that was appropriately more primal-sounding and acted as further confirmation that even though the band had grown immensely on the new record, they still started from a place of remarkable assuredness and achievement. And just as it’s hard to separate the band’s sound and visuals, it’s hard to say if it would be harder to capture their live sound on record or reproduce their recordings on stage. It’s probably a good thing they’re astonishing at both.
The Montreal Gazette has an interview with Jef Barbara.
Photos: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Jef Barbara @ The Garrison – November 6, 2013
Video: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan – “One”
Video: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan – “Hoshi Neko”
Video: Jef Barbara – “Song For The Loveshy”
Video: Jef Barbara – “I Know I’m Late”
Video: Jef Barbara – “Sébastien”
Video: Jef Barbara – “Wild Boys”
Video: Jef Barbara – “Les Homosexuelles”
Video: Jef Barbara – “Cocaïne Love”
Video: Jef Barbara – “Larmes de Crocodiles”
Video: Jef Barbara – “Flight 777”
I’ve been waiting most of this year for news of Toronto indie-pop outfit Alvvays’ debut album, and it’s finally here. Well, the news – not the album. Exclaim reports that their self-titled, Chad VanGaalen-produced debut will be out next year, but they’re sharing the first single from it with a video premiered at Nylon. They’ll play it and other lovely songs at The Hoxton when they open for Young Galaxy on November 22.
Video: Alvvays – “Adult Diversion”
A little late to this one but I think this Spike Jonze-directed, live thing from the YouTube Music Awards last weekend is counting as the new video from Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. And if it’s not, oh well.
Video: Arcade Fire – “Afterlife”