Monday, June 29, 2009

Gig: Ohbijou

Ohbijou / Great Bloomers / Evening Hymns

The Opera House. Thursday, June 25, 2009.

The local CD release party for Ohbijou's excellent new Beacons album was much-anticipated. Even had it gone off on its original late April date, it would have felt rather a long time in coming, with several of the new songs having already had a fairly lengthy tenure in the setlist. But: good things/thems that wait/etc.

I was a tad apprehensive at the fact the gig was at The Opera House — not one of favourite venues to see one of my favourite bands. Though I've seen some great shows there, I've also had some negative experiences including sweaty, claustrophobic overcrowding and muddy sound. While I has hopeful that Ohbijou wasn't going to draw as much from the pushy, angry demographic of concert-goers, I was mildly worried that the room might muffle the beautifully detailed interplay of their sound. At the very least, I thought to myself on arriving, the band was able to use the big stage at The Opera House to their advantage, having taken some extra effort to dress it up with dramatically-hung sheets overhead and so forth.

First up was Evening Hymns, a local-via-Peterborough act, playing a set of Hayden-meets-Counting Crows-eque pop. Frontman Jonas Bonnetta has a plaintive voice and some vaguely pretty tunes that were at their best when delivered with a a six-piece backing band, adding flourishes on keyb, trumpet, and Sylvie Smith's backing vox. It was a spirited set with a nice energy level, but most of it didn't particularly connect with me. There were some good moments, and one winner in a new "Mountain Song" carried by James Bunton's (guesting from Ohbijou) rollicking beat, but overall, count me amongst the unconverted at this point.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I'd seen Great Bloomers in a much smaller room this spring and was left with no strong impression. A bigger room with an enthusiastic crowd did not cause much change. The band is mildly MOR, but not unforgivably so, and actually led off with some fairly strong stuff, but I soon found it sagging a bit. Perhaps the well-executed cover of the Muscle Shoals classic "The Dark End of the Street" revealed the answer — the band's own material (as of yet) just hasn't reached that next level. It did pick up again towards the end — "Dark Horse" and "Speak of Trouble" both demonstrate some emergent popcraft, the former also showing that the band shouldn't be afraid to flex its country-rock muscles.

But in any case, all was prelude to Ohbijou's taking the stage. Boasting an enhanced lineup with extra strings and Kiely Russell's trumpet in addition to the core seven-piece, the band played an hour-long main set, very heavily leaning on the new album — only "St. Francis" from Swift Feet made it into the main set.1 This garners to complaints from this corner — it's highly exciting to hear the band playing the newer stuff with full confidence and in lush sound. The band seemed rather happy to be playing for the hometown crowd, forging one more connection between band and place to add to the ones they celebrate in their songs.2

There was a good crowd on hand, but down on the floor it wasn't packed in and felt fairly comfortable.3 And the sound, in the end, was pretty good, with all the players audible in the mix and nothing too overpowering. In terms of sheer performance quality, this might have been the best I've even seen from Ohbijou — this band is performing at a remarkably high level right now. There was also a pleasing visual aspect to the show, with the sheets above the band's heads acting as a screen for some live projections of colourful Brownian motion. A three-song encore began with the ineffable sweetness of "Thunderlove" and ended with the all-hands-on-stage percussion spectacle of "The Woods". Quite a time. Ohbijou are one of our best bands, and hopefully this album does them well.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 I can't put a title to the last song of the main set, tho I'm sure I've heard it played before. The lyrics start with "I'll lay it down". Can anyone help here?

2 Like the empty hole in Queen Street that always puts an echo of "Memoriam" in my mind when I walk by.

3 Though I have no love for the guy who started loudly yelling "encore!" with two songs left in the main set.

No comments:

Post a Comment