Friday, August 20, 2010

Gig: Lisa Bozikovic

Lisa Bozikovic (Gabe Levine / The Silt)

The Music Gallery. Thursday, June 3, 2010.

On a pleasant June night it was slightly stuffy and warm inside the Music Gallery — a reminder that it was near the end of the indoor music season. Though that would bring with it the promise of upcoming outdoor shows, there was still some music to hear in this lovely space. I was rather glad to have seen this show announced, as I'd missed Lisa Bozikovic's album release show at the same location a few months prior. On this night, she'd be a most gracious host, surrounding her set of direct songs with a couple more, um, tangential avant-folk acts.

The first of those was Gabe Levine1, starting off the evening. Best-known for his work with Constellation-affiliated Black Ox Orkestar, his past efforts were linked to Montreal's experimental-type scene. Currently Toronto-based, he was playing material from his forthcoming solo album Long Spun Thread2, produced by Sandro Perri, who is no stranger himself to working in the different worlds of experimental/non-experimental musics. bearing that in mind, it's interesting to see what he brings to this more song-based music.

And, indeed, to the casual observer, the net effect here leans more towards conventional song structures and arrangements, but with a subtle undertow of sonic complications. The music was mellowish overall and in a singer-songwriter kind of mode, and even gave an impression not unlike some of the Mountain Goats' stuff at their most folk-poppish. Levine sang with a steady confidence in a smooth voice, backed by Jessica Moore (banjo, backing vox) and a drummer as a unit "for the first time, ever". Perhaps one of the ways in which those experimental music backgrounds came out was how seamless the players were together.

Given that Levine's music is decidedly non-forceful, perhaps it's no surprise that it didn't immediately knock me down. But it was an intriguing half-hour and left a pleasant aftertaste. Given the cast of local notables contributing to his forthcoming album, it should definitely be worth looking for.

Listen to a track from this set here.

It's arguable that Lost August, the debut album from Lisa Bozikovic, hasn't yet gained the renown it deserves. With a fabulous voice and sympathetic backing from a large supporting cast (including members of the Ohbijou and Steamboat camps), the album wraps a good set of compositions in even more-impressive arrangements, adding texture and depth to what could have been a too-plain, folkie affair. I was interested in seeing how much of that aural expansiveness would be brought to the live show. Unsurprisingly, things were a bit stripped down, but Bozikovic (herself fully capable on keybs, guitar and accordion) had the sympathetic backing of Mike Brooks (electric guit, pedal steel) and Tyler Belluz (also of Kite Hill, on stand-up bass) with Jessica Moore and Gabe Levine returning from the opening set to add additional colour.

The set opened with "This Whole House", one not on her album. Bozikovic, on guitar, fought off a little bit of feedback at the start of "New City" but overcame that to present a delicate interplay with the pedal steel. An enthusiastic collaborator, Bozikovic seemed less at ease being the centre of attention — a bit nervous-looking throughout, and tuning at length, almost as if to steady herself down. She was also very time-conscious, cutting a song from her own setlist so as to not cut The Silt short. Anti-diva, perhaps — or perhaps some of the aching vulnerability hinted at in her album was just floating up to the surface.

But that certainly didn't subtract from her ability to express the emotional undercurrents in her songs, getting at the feelings that are more complicated than the words could convey. After describing her ex-lover's lips with an unabashed sensuality at the start of "Wanting the Wanting" — shades of Lucinda Williams at her best — it felt like a knowing, self-deceiving lie when she sang "I feel nothing for you now/ maybe I felt nothing for you then," on the chorus. These are the layers of self-undercutting contradictions that real people feel and that songs don't normally grasp at.

Bozikovic looked more at ease when she moved over to the piano, leading off there with a forceful "Take and Take". She was joined by Felicity Williams3 who added her admirable voice to another unreleased tune, possibly called "Waterfall", their intertwining voices adding a lovely hue to the song — the lilting "whoa-oh-oh"'s more gentle brook than waterfall, bringing locals Snowblink to mind. Very good stuff, so it felt sad that the set, just seven songs, zipped by in a too-quick half-hour.

Pared down that much, some of the album's standouts — like the sublime "New City" — were left unplayed. What we got was very good, though, and it's worth noting that Bozikovic is not out of songs after her stellar album, with three of the selections here not coming from that release. Bozikovic has the talent to justify both a more assertive presence on the stage and a longer set length — hopefully these will be the rewards of some more exposure and more shows.

A couple tracks from this set: you can hear one from the album here and one that isn't here.

The final set of the night was from The Silt, another one of those recombinant forces from the local improvised/experimental scene. This unit consists of Marcus Quin, Ryan Driver and Doug Tielli. Each of these guys serve in a number of other formal and ad hoc music groups — I've seen the latter two in multiple capacities, both playing their own stuff and backing others, as well as playing together in mouth-speaker soul-weirdos The Reveries. Those who know that band would have one means of comparison, as The Silt occupies different coordinates on the same terrain, less self-consciously "weird" and more straightforwardly song-based. But relatively so, of course. Like Gabe Levine in the opening set, what we have here are capable improvisational musicians playing around with song forms. But this crew was a quite a different angle, their music more strongly abstracted.

There's also an oblique sort of rootsyness here, some songs coming off like right-angle encounters with the blues. Which is to say if you were constructing a continuum of weird-rootsy/experimental music, you could put this left of the dial to acts like FemBots (y'know, a little weird) or Rock Plaza Central (a bit more off-kilter) — but still capable of occasional bursts of poppish ebullience.

Anyways, these guys have been playing together as The Silt for a decade (releasing three albums in the process) giving them an intuitive ease. As Driver and Tielli swapped off lead vocals, each in their own high, keening manner, Driver moved between piano and an old analog synth. Quin spent most of the set doing double duty on simultaneous bass and percussion, but sometimes just limited himself to playing his bass with a slide. Tielli added guitar lines that could slide quickly in and out of abstraction.

Perhaps appropriate to this band's round-about-ness, I can say that I didn't not like this. But I wouldn't be so bold as to remove that double negative. I get a certain sense on listening to music like this similar to what I get after watching a certain kind of arthouse cinema — the experience is more edifying that pleasing, perhaps I could say. Or interesting without really grabbing me emotionally. It is fascinating to sort of mentally reverse-engineer these songs to see the crazy way they constructed them — almost like one of those shows where engineers have to build a car out of junkyard debris.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Those looking him up should look here, and not confuse him with the other Gabe Levine, who is in a Brooklyn indie band called Takka Takka.

2 The album release show for this is now listed on Friday, October 1 at the Music Gallery, and promises a very tasty-looking group of supporting players. Plus, the always-fabulous Mantler is opening.

3 Williams, perhaps best-known right now for her work in THOMAS, is also a notable frequent collaborator with many local artists.

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