Monday, October 29, 2007

Letters From (North) America #8


Like I was going to go to North America and not take in at least one gig...

Too late into New York for the dream bill of Arcade Fire / LCD Soundsystem / Les Savy Fav / Blonde Redhead at Randall's Island a week earlier, too far from Williamsburg for the free Fiery Furnaces in-store appearance the same night, still out in the sticks when the Raveonettes tour called in on Toronto - but, thanks to Friday's visit to Rotate This, we discovered !!! were in town the night we got back to Toronto and promptly snapped up tickets to see one of the bands who really made our Glastonbury this year.

As the name would suggest, the Opera House has in days gone by played host to a form of entertainment generally considered more high-brow and "cultured" than rock 'n' roll. The ornate frame around the stage serves as a reminder of that past, making the experience of seeing a gig there, even given the scuzziness of the floor and bar areas, similar in nature to witnessing the collision of the sacred and the profane which very often takes place at the Point in Cardiff (such as when the Melvins were the visitors).

By the time we make it in, past three separate check points - ID (you've got to be over 21), pat-down security search, ticket - the support band are well into their set. If the member of staff at Rotate This who sold us the tickets is to be believed, this is Lioness. He had urged us to get there early to see his friends perform. Their take on The Gossip with added keys may be more than just idle chatter, but ultimately nothing in their set dazzles as much as the huge-haired vocalist's gold lame dress. But no matter - (Dead Kennyism ahoy) they're not the mane attraction.

One thing that's struck me so far during my time in Canada is quite how keen Canadians are to distinguish themselves from their near-neighbours. Many eagerly impress upon you their British roots, and certainly in their general politeness and reserve - in contrast to the stereotype of the brash, whooping, loudmouth American - they feel like close relations. Which is all very well in most circumstances - but not at gigs. According to our hosts and fellow concert-goers, Toronto crowds are notoriously restrained - so, from their perspective, the frenzy which ensues after the headliners take to the stage is all the more surprising. Of course, Jenni and I knew what to expect - if anyone could bring the party to Toronto, loosen limbs, animate arms and set feet in motion, then !!! could.

This is the New Yorkers' final date on their North American tour in support of latest album Myth Takes, and the set is as a result comprised primarily of new material. 'All My Heroes Are Weirdos' is inventively percussive 70s cop show funk as viewed through a hipster's shades, not to mention a succinct explanation as to why John Frusciante loved them so much he insisted they accompany the Red Hot Chili Peppers on tour, while the stomping beat of 'Yadnus', pounded out by not one but two drummers, can be set alongside that of Battles' 'Atlas' as evidence that the glam revival is well and truly underway. Much as Big Apple predecessors Blondie were a new wave band seduced by disco, !!! are a punk band that have internalised the rhythms and aesthetics of dance music so completely that the joins are no longer visible - and in any case you're lost too deep in the groove to want or try to look for them.

Principal drummer Gerard Fuchs might be sporting an interesting moustache and bassist Justin Van Der Volgen might look like Mick Fleetwood had he been kidnapped, kept in a cupboard and fed nothing but magic mushrooms, but the real star of the show is frontman Nic Offer. Phill had it absolutely right when he said that Offer is the worst dancer imaginable. He whirls and prances about the stage, jumps up on the amp and grabs his face theatrically. Most amusing of all, though, is when, with arms straight, he holds out his hands flat, jittering about like a paunchy and slightly sweaty penguin undergoing electric shock therapy. You might be forgiven for thinking this would be a bad thing for an ubercool band for whom dancing is so important, but the exact opposite is true - Offer's complete lack of self-consciousness, the way he hands control of his body over to the music so entirely, is precisely what makes the crowd lose it to the extent they do. We might all look just as ridiculous, but we just don't care.

We get an encore that Montreal didn't ("so you've got to go extra crazy") and the roof never comes quite so close to being blown off as at the climax of 'A New Name', Offer wandering around with his arse hanging out after co-vocalist Shannon Funchless rips the seat of his jeans.

The repeated "Don't stop" refrain of 'Bend Over Beethoven', an echo of Junior Senior's one-hit-wonder disco gem, seems to be as much them encouraging themselves to keep going - their equivalent of Thomas the Tank Engine's "I think I can, I know I can" - but, out of exhaustion and sympathy for the soles of our dancing shoes, it has to end at some point. Unfortunately.

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