Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gig: BBQ

BBQ (TV Ghost / The Hoa Hoa's)

The Garrison. Saturday, June 25, 2011.

A Mark Pesci-promoted Saturday night at The Garrison, and a bit of an odd bill where it wasn't intuitive that any of the acts belonged together. And, truth be told, I was there as much as anything to see The Hoa Hoa's, who were tabbed as early openers. Besides some fans and friends, though, it was quite empty in the room — it looked like the headliner's fans weren't going to come out early to experience something different.

Truth be told though, I prefer an attentive skeleton crew to a room full of people who are indifferent to the band on stage, and as turned out, the band was sounding rather good in the room. They were focusing mainly on their then-newer material — a couple chestnuts like "Postcards" and "Vinyl Richie" were played, but the bulk of the set was comprised of material that would later emerge on their final EP. There were even a couple songs that are (for now, at least) as-yet unreleased, one apiece from from guitarists Lee Brochu and Richie Gibson. Brochu's was one I'd heard before, but Gibson's slower, introspective song was maybe brand new.

The band ran into some trouble when Calvin Brown's drum stool collapsed under him. He got through "All the Time" standing up, and managed to jury-rig some adjustments after that to get through the set, including the big implosion of "Blue Gumball" to finish.

As it would turn out, there'd only be a few more Hoa Hoa's shows after this, so I'm glad I went out of my way to see them. Handy rule of thumb: you'll never know how long your favourite bands will last, so never take 'em for granted — go and see them play when you have the chance!

Listen to a song from this set here.

Coming in, I didn't know anything about TV Ghost, a quartet out of Lafayette, Indiana. They were touring their Mass Dream album, and on songs like "Wired Trap" my initial impression was "spazzy, but howl-y". Further research would indicate that they have, on record, a more austere sound — on stage, that was backgrounded to a no-wave shiver down running down one's spine, invoking a sort of gloomy gravitas. It's similar territory to what Ell V Gore are doing here in T.O.

On stage, it was more of a highwire act, with the antics supplied by guitarist/vocalist Tim Gick — tall, lanky, pompadoured. He was a bit of an entertainer, more than willing to step up on his monitor to get right close to the crowd and wail on his guitar. Given the gusto with which he was playing, when he was turned around to face the drummer and slowly shuffling away backwards, I was mildly worried he might step back right off the front of the stage. That was averted, however, once he was down on his back, rolling around.

The rest of the musicians were more stay-in-place types, but there was a lot to watch anyway. At the end of "Phantasm" (a song that would emerge this year on a single), Gick was down wandering on the floor in front of the stage. He then leaned back against it and rolled backwards onto the stage, ending up on his feet, effortlessly playing the whole time. A bit later, he'd kick a cable loose from his amp, probably fatally damaging a patchcord in the process. The band kept it going while he swapped things up. One gets the impression that equipment damage and broken collarbones aren't unheard of in this band.

For the finale, while Gick was on his back, flailing around on the floor in front of the stage, keyboardist Jimmy Frezza was clinging onto the ends of his keyboard with both hands, playing it by biting down on the keys. No great surprise that the band was offering a live DVD for sale on the merch table.

Musically, it was bracing stuff, but there wasn't much there for anyone looking for choruses or hooks — you have to be on board with the idea that this works based on the different sort of atmospheres that the band brings, live and in the studio.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Mark Sultan has played in the Montréal garage punk scene for more than a decade in a half, both as a member of bands like Spaceshits and Les Sexareenos and in his later incarnation as BBQ, where he plays both solo shows and in an on-and-off partnership with King Khan. Here he was playing all on his own, with just his guitar and a couple foot-drums, a pretty unassuming guy in a newsboy hat.

His drum-thumping line-checking segued straight into jaggedly pumping rock'n'roll, though the first song's lyrics were mostly about getting more guitar in the monitor. The very idea of a "song" was sorta up for dispute here, as the set was often long bursts of songfragments (some lasting well under a minute) seguing directly into each other, sometimes only barely differentiated by key and tempo changes. Sultan's guitar was all chunka chunka chunka crude rhythms with the clattering percussion rushing along to keep up. It's a deliberately pared-down backdrop for his soulful voice, though that was often deliberately scuffed up as well.

There was an edge of in-the-moment contingency at play where the music could go from practised primitivism to simply falling apart in seconds, with songs sometimes lurching to a stop midway through and with a couple stretches of botched changes — "sorry to waste your precious time," Sultan commented after one of the vacations from tunefulness.

The music invoked Hasil Adkins' atavism as much as Ramones as much as Sam Cooke, so there is a range hidden in the wall of clatter. It felt something like a lo-fi attempt to recreate all of the Animal House soundtrack as one medley, despite not having listened to it for a decade or two — like Otis Day and the Knights after a long bender.

The songs were mostly based around simple lyrical sentiments — topics essayed included "I can't get you out of my mind", "I just can't wait", "I'll be loving you", "I can't go on" and "I want to be the only one". But there was some postmodern meta-commentary interspersed among those sentiments. After Sultan sung he'd "pray you die", it was quickly followed by the spoken aside, "I meant that in a very loving way".

One could "read" the sudden shifts of the musical landscape here as a deconstructive method as well, I suppose. But as it went on, it seemed more and more like undifferentiated mush to me. That said, though I was finding this less interesting than the other acts of the night, there was a big crowd for this, packed in tight up close and ready to dance. So maybe I was just overthinking the situation.

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

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