Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gig: Forest City Lovers

Forest City Lovers (Gentleman Reg / Carmen Elle)

The Great Hall. Thursday, August 12, 2010.

"Enjoy the awesome awesomeness," said the woman at the door as she stamped my hand. Well, you can't ask for a better welcome than that. I stepped into the large open space of The Great Hall, taking in a scene of OOTS-y wholesomeness, with songs by local musicians playing in the background while little circles of friends sat on the floor chatting. This is not, it should be said, a mean-looking crowd.

As is often the case at shows hosted by local label Out of This Spark, there's been some effort to make the whole thing a bit of an experience, including a nicely decorated stage. Also a frequent sight at OOTS shows: label honcho Stuart Duncan pacing semi-distractedly around the room, as if he were on the lookout for last-minute problems to solve. Everything seemed well in hand, though, and there was a decently-sized early crowd on hand, especially considering that this show was competing with one at SummerWorks that'd appeal to mostly the same audience.

I picked this one because it was a stacked lineup, and I'd been waiting for awhile to get a chance to see a full set by Carmen Elle. Here, she was playing as a two-piece with Andy Smith on drums. "We tried to decide over dinner if we were going to have a band name, but we couldn't think of anything... yet."1 Name or no, the pair were on to something with their stripped-down rock'n'roll goodness. Carmen Elle is a crafty guitar player as well as a very fine vocalist, with a superior voice that occasionally brought to mind a tougher kd lang. The songs were getting better and better as the set progressed, Carmen Elle getting more relaxed and rocking out some — stepping up onto an amp here and doing a high kick there. That was admitted after not to be so much of a big rock-star move as a cue to Smith — the pair were still learning to play these songs together. If this was just the rough sketch of where this music is going, then the fully-formed versions should be really special. I'm very much looking forward to hearing more from this pair.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And after that, a perennial favourite in the middle slot. Quietly taking the stage, Reg Vermue introduced himself, "Hello, everybody, my name is Gentleman Reg." Long pause, as he looked out and waited for the chattering crowd to react. I counted about ten steamboats before he leaned into the microphone, speaking more forcefully, "I said, 'I'm Gentleman Reg'". That got people's attention and garnered the requisite amount of applause for Reg to begin. On his own, he played one of the new songs (let's tentatively call it "Maybe We Won't") that he'd debuted during his Drake "Regidency" early in the year. He was then joined by his band leaping into "To Some It Comes Easy". That would be one of the relatively few older songs being played this night, with the setlist focusing on the post Jet Black age — not just the new ones that had been aired out a few times already (such as the likable one that might be called "Make It Better") but also a pair of brand new songs. Reg rightly noted those ones were "synth heavy", leaning heavily on Kelly McMichael's work to propel them along. "Charmed in a Phone Booth" was the title of one, "Driving the Truth" the other — that one featured a very tasty squiggly instrumental outro.

Vermue is sitting on enough new material that it couldn't all crack the setlist, and the amazing new song "It's True" was missed here. But it's good to see things being mixed up, and besides the regular appearance of "Wild Heart", there was also a slowed-down cover of Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy", with bassist Jon Hynes taking over guitar and McMichael singing the choruses, making the song into a duet.

Playing what was pretty much the band's only local set of the summer, Reg and company played for just shy of fifty minutes, As always, I was glad to have the chance to catch a snapshot of the band's steadily-evolving repertoire.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, at the heart of the awesome awesomeness, Forest City Lovers played to celebrate the launch of Carriage, the third full-length under the FCL banner. The core five-piece unit was supplemented for this show with some extra textures by Claire Whitehead on violin and keybs. The set started off, just like the album, with the owlish "Phodilus & Tyto", and there was a chance to hear the extra strings right from the outset. The band would follow along with the album tracklisting for a couple more songs, including the delightful "Tell Me, Cancer", before starting to skip back and forth a little more.

Overall, this would be a more ornate, less rock configuration than they'd brought to the table lately. With a lot of family and friends in attendance, the band was a bit more in recital mode, a little tentative and more stiff than they can be. This generally didn't undermine the songs too much — in fact, it helped add a certain stateliness to material like "Keep the Kids Inside". And as always, no matter how the songs were being presented, there was still Kat Burns' warm voice at the centre of it all.

All told, the band would play nine of their new album's eleven tracks to start the show2 before pausing to tune and introduce the band. They then dipped back into some of the older songs, mostly favourites from 2008's Haunting Moon Sinking like "Watching the Streetlights Grow" and "Don't Go". There was only "Song For Morrie" to represent 2006's debut The Sun And The Wind, and then one last dip into the new one to close out the main set with "Constellation".

The band came back out for the encore to play "Orphans" before getting some "woah-oh-oh" action from the crowd on "Country Road". All told, I would rate this more of a good performance than an outstanding one — perhaps with so much new material, the band was more worried about getting it right than elevating it to the next level. But as always, the band's open-heartedness pulled it through. One of Burns' best attributes as a performer is her totally unaffected guilelessness, making it hard not to get pulled in to the songs' warm centres.2

You can check out a couple tracks from this set – try here or here.

1 This duo alignment apparently has indeed gelled into a more formal band, now called Army Girls. They've recently posted a track on their bandcamp page, which is well-worth checking out.

2 Ultimately, of all the songs on Carriage, only "Believe Me" wouldn't be tackled.

3 And I shouldn't neglect to mention that as a record, Carriage is pretty fantastic and a step up for the band. Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment