July 21, 2008

Wolf Parade Live x2

Because they may be the best thing going these days, I asked Boo to join me in writing about Wolf Parade -- their new disc is out and we each saw the band on their current tour.

Boo: The opening band, The Listening Party, was very good to humble shades of great. Consisting of a (very talented) vocalist/plastic-garbage-can percussionist and a guitarist/backup vocalist, it took a while for me to get used to it, but in the end, I was converted. They seemed to be shooting for a style that married American roots-esque folk and country melodies with echo guitar lines, heavy, driving, complex percussion loops, and indie sensibilities. In terms of their songs and delivery, what some might have called repetition, others might call a reinforcement of a single, solid aesthetic and style, and whatever your point of view might be, they drove home that very musical point without straying too far into other stylistic territories. After the end of the half hour, I knew what they were about -- and I liked it.

Tony: I skipped the opening acts but grabbed a good spot on a railing in the balcony at First Avenue with Katie.

Boo: Then came Wolf Parade. This was their first show of the tour, and it was at least highly impressive and at most life-altering. Emerging from the side stage entrance and comprising the group were Arlen Thompson (drums), Hadji Bakara (synth, theremin, and noise effects), Dante DeCaro (guitar), Dan Boeckner (guitar and vocals), and Spencer Krug (Piano, synth, and vocals). They started the set with "Language City," a strong Boeckner tune from the recently released "At Mount Zoomer," which was soon followed by a driving, hypnotic performance of "Call it a Ritual" that reinforced the strength and command of the opening track and made clear the intention of the band that night: to fuck shit up in the best possible way.

Tony: Wolf Parade opened in similar fashion in Mpls, but I'll note here and throughout some of the differences between this most recent show and that which I saw two summers ago in Detroit.
At that point, I wrote:
Wolf Parade bashed harder. They smashed chimes. They played their entire album and new songs, and finally only had one song left to play, and made its seven minutes into even more. I danced and jumbled with a drunken couple. The louts clobbered the crowd but I didn't mind, because they gave me an excuse to get rowdy right back. They poured beer on me and I danced and I stripped off my shirt in the parking lot before we ate Taco Bell on a raised lawn with ants invading my tossed-aside shoes.
This show wasn't quite like that, in part because of the new album material. I don't know what it means when an album has the ability to "grow on" you, but that's what "Mount Zoomer" did for me, especially in the run-up to the concert. I think there are more "movements" within each track on the new disc, which when played live, make for lots of anticipation.

Boo: The one aspect that I never fully realized when listening to Wolf Parade (yet became highly apparent live) were the fantastic drum parts of Arlen, and how his beat placement and basic, almost oddly dance-like, rhythms truly push the songs forward and provide a moving if not sprinting energy to Spencer and Dan's fantastic song arrangements. The propulsive drums and stable grooves are not as strongly emphasized in the recordings, but literally knock you back at the most intense moments of the songs, whether the remarkable build up of "California Dreamer," the classic "Grounds for Divorce," or the simply epic, urging explosion of "I'll Believe in Anything."

Tony: Agreed, but I always knew it. It did take about four songs for the sound mixing to bring the keys and synth up to a level to compete with the drums.

Boo: As to the performers themselves, it was to watch them play. Firstly, Dan Boeckner is rock and roll. His stage presence consists of cigarettes, tight jeans, and spasmatic, brilliant, euphoric releases of gritty, seasoned vocals and aggressive lashes at his guitar. Carly noticed what she called his "funny head thing" as well as I did -- how he manages to have his left leg and head move in an almost coordinated epileptic fit while the rest of his body seems relatively unaffected and oblivious to them. And his charisma and energy only built from there, since by the time they ended the main set with a remarkable 15-minute version of "Kissing the Beehive," Boeckner was on the floor in front of his amplifier, swinging the guitar against the speakers, stabbing at the pickups with his cable, twisting and bending the mechanical vibrato arm on the instrument half-hoping it to snap, and generally being as overwhelmingly dedicated to the creation of static, noise, and electronic screams as any human being has ever been. It was fucking sweet, Ira Kaplan style.

Tony: There's something about Minnesota crowds. Something shitty. Spence kept calling us "nice," which we were, which doesn't cut it. Boeckner never would have had the momentum to go to the ground like that. Same lame crowd as at the New Pornographers show I bet...

Boo: Now there is Spencer Krug, a completely different side of things. Carly giggled in surprise when I pointed him out -- in his early thirties he looks to be, at most, a boyish 21. He's also the most distracted, odd, and engaging performer I've ever witnessed. He would kind of half-sit at his keyboards and rock back on forth on his seat with one leg wrapped around ready to stand, sit properly, jump up, or literally just walk away prepared to wander around in his region of the stage for a portion of a song -- which he did. He would play relatively complex and highly brilliant keyboard parts, hammering heavy octaves on his electric piano, weaving fascinating threads of notes that managed to be shockingly clever as they are subtle in the mix, and delivering playful, inspired melody lines and accents on what looked to be an older, toy Yamaha synthesizer position atop his main piano. He managed to do all of this and then suddenly back off and look off stage for a few seconds, or maybe gander at the lights around him for a bit, or, looking bored, take a drink of a beer off to the side of the stage before practically leaping back into the music and almost in a split-second start playing even more inspired keyboard parts than you remembered him doing previously.

Just watching his performing makes you realize how subtle yet brilliant their song arrangements are, such as how "Grounds for Divorce" builds around the main keyboard theme introduced at the beginning, and how the vocal lines, guitar jabs, and additional keyboard parts all reinforce the repeated theme. There isn't a simple 3-chords-and-a-melody approach to songwriting happening with Wolf Parade, but rather a serious and thoughtful development of musical and lyrical themes and variations on them.

Tony: There's also something incomprehensible about the band's lyrics. Some sort of chanting-a-catch-phrase mantra that doesn't make much sense, but which nevertheless is exciting to sing along to (singing along to single phrases, here and there).

Boo: By the time they finished with an encore of "It's a Curse", "I'll Believe in Anything" and a ridiculously awesome "Fancy Claps" it was clear that even another 8 hours would have been the incredible combination of not enough and too much, just as the past 2 had been.

Tony: Perfectly said by Boo. The encore, perhaps identical, really left me wanting more and wondering if they shouldn't have built to that frenzy earlier.

Boo: Reluctantly we filed out along with the rest of the crowd, and, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 a.m., Carly and I ran into Spencer Krug and the two members of the listening party outside the venue. We had a brief conversation, discussing how the band hadn't played together for 10 months before brief rehearsals led to this first show of the tour, the new album, those little orange bracelets that band members have to wear, how Pontiac is a ghost town, etc. Spencer was polite and I was starstruck, and it managed not to be too awkward before Carly and I left to try and get some sleep, as hard as that would most likely be.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review(s)! Thanks for all the details. Cant wait to see them in toronto soon.

July 21, 2008 at 7:50 PM 
Blogger Chase said...

"California Dreamer" is definitely my favorite song on At Mount Zoomer, for what it's worth. I'm jealous you all get to see them ... they wisely decided to stay away from Charleston.

July 22, 2008 at 1:43 AM 

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