Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gig: Picastro


The Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival). Friday, August 13, 2010.

Unlike some of the others in the SummerWorks music series, this one was very much a sit-down affair, and as I entered the theatre, a couple rows of chairs were being set up on the floor in front of the stage. A handful of people were trickling in, but it wasn't too crowded.

I was guessing that the women sitting in front of me were here for Evening Hymns, as they seemed to be unfamiliar with Picastro. Looking over the gear on the stage, one of them said to the other, "I think I'm going to like this band — I see cello and melodica... all we need are group vocals and fingersnaps!"

Uh-oh. I was musing to myself whether I should warn them or not, as Picastro's music works on a completely different plane than the jaunty indie-rock that I think they were expecting. Instead, the band is powered by the near-drony guitar figures and and keening/narcoleptic vocals of Liz Hysen, backed by Nick Storring's ghostly cello and Brandon Valdivia's percussion. Yeah, I'm not sure how this will go over with anyone expecting fingersnaps, but sitting down, with a quiet audience — this was a fine environment to settle in and listen.

The set lead off with "Split Head", from most recent album Become Secret. That would form the bulk of what the band played, but there were also what I think were a couple newer ones in there, too — Hysen needed to refer to her notebook a few times while singing. For the first couple songs, the vocals were higher in the mix than I think I've ever heard at a Picastro show — usually the slight snatches of lyrics are buried, poking out just enough to set the mood and let the slowly unfolding music provide the rest.

There's such a sense of dark melancholy to the band's music that I'm always taken aback to be reminded that the musicians aren't mordantly gloomy. In fact, between songs, while Hysen got caught up in some complicated re-tuning, she was relatively spirited and chatty. But then it's back into some sort of abyss with the stately bleak desperateness of "The Stiff".

A lot of the songs have a striking tension as they surf the line between atonal discomfort and soothing drift. Even what I'm finding "soothing" here is not some people's cup of tea — when Hysen switches from guitar to violin, I could imagine many people finding her interplay with Storring's cello to sound all too much like something Sherlock Holmes would play while in a particularly languid mood. After that, "Car Sleep" (from 2007's Whore Luck) felt like an upbeat pop tune.

There was also some subtle use of a looping pedal in final number "Albanis", Hysen picking out a theme on a guitar with one extra-weirdly tuned string that added one more decentering element as she switched again to violin. Not necessarily easy music to listen to, but very beautiful stuff when you're in the right frame of mind.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I could have quite easily stuck around for the other half of the concert featuring Evening Hymns, but I has something entirely louder and less genteel to head off to.

No comments:

Post a Comment