Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gig: Pitter Patter Festival 2010 (Thursday)

Pitter Patter Festival 2010 (feat. The Hoa Hoa's, The City Streets, Epigram)

The Horseshoe. Thursday, May 27, 2010.

Returning for another year of not-for-profit idealism, the strictly pay-what-you-can Pitter Patter Festival is increasingly ambitious in scope, with shows in Toronto at fourteen venues over three spring nights, as well as well as nearly a dozen out-of-town venues, allowing both visiting bands as well as locals getting their feet wet to set up a quick mini-tour. With that unbeatable price, it's an excellent chance to go out and get familiar with some new bands. In that spirit, on the festival's opening night I found me a lineup that offered a couple groups I knew nothing about, anchored by one of my favourites — meaning I knew there'd be something I'd like if the thrill of the new didn't pan out.

First up in front of a pretty quiet room was local quartet Epigram. Two guitarists, each with a large rack of pedals, were flanking the bassist at centre stage. No mics, I noted — and indeed there'd be no vocals during the set. That, and the extended lengths of their songs, would possibly indicate their name was chosen with a certain wryly-raised-eyebrow sense of misdirection.

The set started with a couple minutes of quiet interplay, one guitar's gentle line playing against the other's e-bow before martial drums came in, building in a chimingly atmospheric ascension. The tones were more soaring than aggressive, and the song's construction used a build-and-release template, stretching out seven minutes.

Perhaps the liberal application of the e-bow here would be the best indicator of the mood that the band was interested in exploring — gliding, shimmering and dreamy. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that their forthcoming sophomore album is entitled Reverie. For better or worse, the band mostly stuck with that throughout, lending a unified sound to a set that detractors might call too much of the same thing. By the last selection I was feeling a bit of that as well.

I note that the band discusses using a wider instrumental palette ("piano, organ, accordion, glockenspiel, and melodica") on their new album — a bit of that brought to the stage would add a needed bit of seasoning to a hardy but stolid broth. But for a half-dozen titles over forty minutes, I found it an enjoyable soundtrack to the evening's start, even if it was, perhaps, not so groundbreaking. I did enjoy it, though, and respect the way the band has chosen to lull rather than hammer the audience.

Listen to a track from this set here.

As out-of-towners, Edmonton-via-Montreal trio The City Streets didn't even have the small retinue of friends that Epigram had brought to the place, and it was feeling rather like a ghost town. There was plenty of room to take things in from the dance floor, but I must confess that after a couple songs I went and found a seat to take things in from a bit further back. Not that there was anything especially wrong with what the group was doing, but it just didn't do much for me. Playing a sort of literate, stripped-down guitar rock, I think they were reaching for a sort of late-era Replacements sound. They scratched at that in a couple songs like "Irish Rose", whose lyrics ("baby since you've gone/ I've been wearing all your clothes") matched the roughed-up musical swagger. But too often they sounded to me something like The Goo Goo Dolls immediately before they lost their edge, or maybe Soul Asylum immediately after they lost theirs. Others might be more amenable to this — I could theoretically imagine it striking someone else as a good example of melodic, sensitive (but not spineless) rock.1

By 11:30, there were more people on hand, but there was still a low-key sort of vibe for a Hoa Hoa's gig. It's unusual to see the band outside their own sorts of events, where the show is part of a party for an audience of friends. Here, in the empty-ish bar, the vibe was more like an away game — the sort of indifferent environment where the savvy side might play for a draw and save their strength for another day. Not that the band was lazy or indifferent, but this set had a different feel.

Still, leading off with "Postcards", that familiar rush came over me, and the band hit the sweet spot early on with a slashing version of "Vinyl Richie" with some electric jug-like vocals thrown into the stew, sounding like the band had maybe been listening to some 13th Floor Elevators. The set also included "The List" (from previous album Sonic Bloom) with its New Order-ish guitar line as well as a repeat of the "new-ish" song recently added to their setlist. "Blue Acid Gumball", in its customary set-closing slot, didn't reach the highest heights that I've seen it taken to, but still closed things out in fine rave-up style.

Conceptually, a bit of a hodge-podge on the night, but that's what you're going to get at a festival like this. As always, huge praise is due to Keith Hamilton and everyone else that makes this PWYC festival happen — it's a great idea, and it's especially cool to have shows like this in relatively bigger venues like The 'Shoe. One slight problem — something that I witnessed here and that I heard about through anecdotal reports of other Pitter Patter gigs — is that given how much work went into putting these shows on, it's disheartening to see lacklustre crowds. The logistics are well in hand — the next step is getting people out to these shows.

1 Their third album, the just-released The Jazz Age, is available for free download via their myspace.

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