Friday, September 17th, 2010
School Of Seven Bells, Active Child and Bishop Morocco at The Mod Club in Toronto
Frank YangWhile I appreciate that there were a lot of entertainment options in Toronto on Wednesday night – TIFF screenings, TIFF parties, no shortage of other concerts big and small – it was still disappointing that there were probably more people camped out in front of the Horseshoe thanks to rumours of a Boss appearance that had been debunked for hours than at the Mod Club to see School Of Seven Bells perform.
You’d have thought that at least the local openers would have gotten some support but the room was barely a dozen people deep when Bishop Morocco took the stage, but within a few songs I couldn’t say I blamed people for staying away. Their plodding, post-punk stylings lacked any of the personality, dynamics or tension needed to sell it and what few compelling melodies they did have were delivered blandly and indifferently. About midway through their set they brought a live drummer out to replace their drum machine and the quality of the music improved immeasurably, raising the question of why they didn’t utilize him for the whole set – the simple programmed beats they used to that point hardly added anything and wouldn’t have been hard to reproduce. Their second half managed to redeem the performance enough that I wouldn’t call it bad, but it still wasn’t especially good. And as a note, modulation effects on vocals don’t work for anyone. Don’t do it.
Active Child – the nom de plume of Los Angeles’ Pat Grossi – was a similarly barely-known quantity coming into the night but made a much more favourable impression. Performing with a bassist/backing vocalist, Grossi moved from harp to keys to guitar over the course of their set, showcasing his musical versatility, melodic intuition and stunningly soulful and operatic vocals, if at the expense of some focus. Some points seemed more directionless than others – everyone likes covering Joy Division’s “Ceremony” for fun but I don’t know that it needs to be part of anyone’s live set – but as a whole it was a warm and appealing performance that should have sent at least a few people over to the merch table to pick up a copy of his debut EP Curtis Lane.
I think my appreciation for School Of Seven Bells has been well-documented. Their debut Alpinisms was one of my favourites of 2008 and this year’s Disconnect From Desire, with it more polished 4AD-ish sheen and greater commitment to pop, is a worthy follow-up. But I’ve never been thrilled with their live shows for reasons that one of the openers had already quite ably demonstrated – canned beats. In the past, the live band was the same as the studio band which meant that behind the Dehaza twins and guitarist Benjamin Curtis, there was… a drum machine. As soaring as the songs they built around it might have been, in a live setting they always felt held back by the soullessness of the programmed beats. And this is not a problem specific to School Of Seven Bells; I maintain there isn’t a live band out there that wouldn’t sound better with a live drummer than even the most sophisticated software.
This is something that School Of Seven Bells seem to have come around on, as their live band now has an actual person behind an actual drum kit and consequently, they put on the best show I’ve seen from them yet. As always, there was guitarist Ali Dehaza on stage left and keyboardist Claudia stage right, Curtis set up behind them both, ensconced in his fortress of guitar gear and rocking out like a teenager in his bedroom with a tennis racket, and a drummer whose name may not have been known but whose presence was surely felt. The programmed beats were still there, underpinning everything, but the sheer muscular force of the percussion and overall volume gave the show a physicality that, quite frankly, kicked ass. Playing to those strengths, the hour-long set focused on the most direct songs from both records and the combination of the weighty sound and angelic, perfect harmonies of the sisters made for a sublime wall of sound on numbers like “Half Asleep” and “Windstorm” that, frustratingly, not a whole lot of people were there to enjoy. I’m sad that so few people came out, not just for the band for not having the audience they deserved but for those who weren’t there because they truly missed out on a great show.
Panic Manual was also on hand for the show. PopMatters has an interview with School Of Seven Bells and NME reports that the band will be re-recording some of their songs in Sim-ese for the soundtrack to the video game The Sims 3. I think I think that’s awesome.
Photos: School Of Seven Bells, Active Child, Bishop Morocco @ The Mod Club – September 15, 2010
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Windstorm”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Babelonia”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Connjur”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Chain”
MP3: Active Child – “Wilderness”
MP3: Active Child – “Body Heat (So Far Away)”
MP3: Bishop Morocco – “Last Year’s Disco Guitars”
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “Windstorm”
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “My Cabal”
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep”
Video: Bishop Morocco – “Last Year’s Disco Guitars”
MySpace: School Of Seven Bells
MySpace: Active Child
Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin all have various features on Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal; PitchforkTV also has a Cemetery Gates video session with the band and NPR is streaming their show in Washington DC from earlier this week.
A new track from Sharon Van Etten’s forthcoming Epic is up for grabs and the album is streaming in whole at NPR. At some point in the near future I will write about why this record is fantastic, but for now, trust me and celebrate the fact that the original October 5 release date has apparently been moved up to next Tuesday. Also make plans to see her open up for Junip on November 5 at Lee’s Palace or wherever she/they are playing near you. The Daily Times and Washington Post have interviews.
Warpaint, who made their Toronto debut opening up for School Of Seven Bells last Fall at Lee’s, have released the first MP3 from their forthcoming debut The Fool, out October 25. They’re at Massey Hall on September 29 opening up for The xx, who incidentally have told NME not to expect a follow-up anytime soon. Or maybe at all.
Spin reports that The Joy Formidable have named their debut full-length The Big Roar and the first single, “I Don’t Want To See You Like This”, is now streaming at their website. The record isn’t out until 2011 but expect to hear lots of it on their Fall North American tour which kicks off November 3 at the Horseshoe in Toronto.
And it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious, but The Charlatans have – get ready for it – cancelled tonight’s show at Lee’s Palace. Drummer Jon Brookes suffered a seizure during their show in Philadelphia Wednesday night and was taken to hospital. He is expected to make a full recovery but it forced the cancellation of both Canadian dates on their North American tour. For those keeping score, this is their third straight failed attempt to play Toronto in the last few years and the second nixed because of a Brookes medical situation (the last time he needed shoulder surgery). Refunds are available at point of purchase but the date is currently in the process of being rescheduled, although their itinerary leaves little flexibility through mid-November. But hey – fourth time’s the charm, right? Best wishes to Brookes on a speedy recovery and I will do my best to not jinx them in the future with jokes about tour cancellations/calamities. The San Francisco Examiner has an interview with Tim Burgess.