Monday, July 11th, 2011
The Wooden Birds and Heartbeat Hotel at The Drake Underground in Toronto
Frank YangYou might not have guessed it to listen to their records, as laid-back and fuzzy blanket-like as they were, but the American Analog Set were an amazing live act. Not through on-stage antics or pyrotechnics or the like, but by how unbelievably tight they were as a unit. The sound of Andrew Kenny’s soft voice and echoing guitar overtop the bed of vibraphone and Farfisa was the very definition of hypnotic and each of the two Toronto shows I saw prior to their disbanding in 2006 were magical. So given that Kenny’s new outfit The Wooden Birds shares many stylistic attributes with AmAnSet, it wasn’t unreasonable to hope that their first visit in support of their new record Two Matchsticks last night at The Drake would recreate some of that magic.
Support for the evening came from locals Heartbeat Hotel, whose psych-pop-laden Fetus Dreams I’d recommended picking up (for free) and who’d made a decent live impression back in December. They’d played out a fair bit since then, though, and some growth was to be expected. Even so, I didn’t expect that the echoey, slow burn that opened their set would be more the rule than the exception. The freewheeling sonic experimentation that marked Fetus Dreams seems to have been reined in, or the approach of flinging everything against the wall has served its purpose and they’ve now identified what stuck and what works; either way, Heartbeat Hotel circa Summer 2011 is a much more controlled, groove-oriented entity, yet still capable of getting noisy when needed. They’ve learned a lesson in musical economics that some bands take albums to master, if ever, and though it’d be nice if some of the energy of the LP could find its way back into their sound, based on the new material showcased – due for release in EP or album form this Fall – they’ll do well on the exam.
Even before The Wooden Birds played a note, it was pretty clear that this wasn’t going to be American Analog Set unplugged. For starters, Leslie Sisson was handling the acoustic guitar duties I’d assumed were Andrew Kenny’s on record, Kenny had no six-string of any kind, instead holding down the low end with a Thunderbird bass and whereas on the recordings electric guitar was used for texture or the occasional lead, the two electric setup implied that live, it would be decidedly otherwise. And indeed, it didn’t take very long to understand and appreciate that The Wooden Birds were no extension of anyone’s old band, but their own thing entirely; whereas AmAnSet shows were like exercises in hypnosis, this performance was wide-eyed and fully awake.
As the band showcased material from Two Matchsticks and its predecessor Magnolia, I couldn’t help think how someone for whom their first impression of the band was this show might find those decidedly mellower-sounding records. Because the live presentation of The Wooden Birds was definitely a much louder and more sprightly and widescreen-sounding affair. Tempos were stepped up appreciably, and rhythms given an almost country-western shuffle which would prove especially complimentary to the subtle twang of Sisson’s vocals. Those vocals were more than complimentary to Kenny’s voice – they sounded as lovely together as any two voices could – and for an hour or so, they led the band through a set of splendid pop. And for the AmAnSet fans in the audience – which I would assume to be most of them – they did Toronto the pleasure of honouring a request made the last time AmAnSet was in town, which is to say half a decade ago, and offered a reading of “Aaron & Maria” which they segued into a cover of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby”. I went into this show hoping to relive a little AmAnSet magic but The Wooden Birds would have none of that; as stated they’ve got their own thing going on and that thing is simply lovely. If they’re coming through your town on their way back down to Austin, do go see them.
Photos: The Wooden Birds, Heartbeat Hotel @ The Drake Underground – July 10, 2011
MP3: The Wooden Birds – “Two Matchsticks”
MP3: The Wooden Birds – “False Alarm”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “Fins Of A Shark”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “Walls Of Dry Clouds”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “The Hello Barrel”
Video: The Wooden Birds – “Two Matchsticks”
Video: The Wooden Birds – “Hometown Fantasy”
Video: Heartbeat Hotel – “Windowsill #1″
Shonen Knife will be at The Horseshoe on October 20 to kick of a 30th anniversary tour and next week’s release of their new record Osaka Ramones, a Ramones tribute record. Tickets for the show are $14.50 in advance, full dates at Exclaim.
The documentary film which led to a rather nasty exchange between filmmaker Vincent Moon and Arcade Fire management – Miroir Noir: Neon Bible Archives – will be getting a screening at the TIFF Lightbox on Wednesday evening at 7:30PM as part of Images Festival. Probably safe to say neither filmmaker nor subjects will be in attendance.
Trailer: Miroir Noir: Neon Bible Archives