Friday, June 10, 2011

Concert Review: Glasvegas and Magneta Lane at Lee's Palace by David Pretty

MAY 29, 2011          GLASVEGAS WITH MAGNETA LANE          LEE'S PALACE         

Greetings, Seekers of Sonic Soundscapes.

When our presence was commanded by a friend who recently relocated to Toronto, naturally one the first things we did was check the local listings to see what bands of interest might be playing.  We were delighted to see that Glasvegas would be making an appearance at the venerable Lee's Palace on Bloor Street, just a stone's throw away from that other Scott Pilgrim shrine, Honest Ed's.

We were also a bit leery about the show, since the band is now touring in support of their new album Euphoric ///Heartbreak\\\ which we'd only barely had a chance to listen to.  At first spin, the album seems to have jettisoned the band's precious Clash-meets-50's-jukebox-melancholia in lieu of what I can only describe as synthetic sounding 80's-era funereal dirges.  At first impression, anyway. 

In fact the new material is so jarring that a friend of mine is convinced that the band is suddenly a bunch of "no-talent ass clowns" and has since created an "I Hate Glasvegas" Facebook page which he bade me to join in no uncertain terms.

Although the band had no way to know it, there was a lot riding on their performance that night for me.  It was sure to sway this cowboy's opinion of them one way or another.

We took the subway down to the Bathurst station, knocked down a slice at Pizzaiolo and then hopped in the growing queue in front of the multi-colored edifice of Lee's Palace.

Once inside we were both stunned by just how small the venue seemed to be.  We snagged a few Steam Whistle beers from an appropriately surly bartender ("Hey!  Whaddaya want?  Don't line up, it's a fucking BAR!") perched on some stools just a few meters away from the stage and waited in anticipation for the opening act.

While we were sitting pretty I overheard a couple of people bragging about how they'd seen such luminaries as Radiohead and Oasis in that same hallowed space and I couldn't help but feel a sharp pang of jealousy.  I was giddy thinking about how amazing it must have been to see such tremendous acts in so intimate a space.

The place was nearly filled to capacity when Magneta Lane took to the stage.  First off, thank you Toronto for having the courtesy to show up for the opening act.  Between Magneta Lane and Imaginary Cities I'm having some inordinately good luck discovering these stellar opening acts.

After strapping on (or being strapped into) their instruments these three deceptively young and innocent- looking ladies proceeded to systematically melt our faces off with a battery of hard-edged musical mastery that had everyone hooting and/or hollering.  I love it when three unassuming young women come out on stage, heft up their tools of trade and then proceed to grab the audience in a sonic choke-hold.  Here's a l'il sampler:

Pretty cool, huh?

Lead singer Lexi Valentine (Pretty cool, huh?) used her alternately lush and dreamy voice to good effect, contrasting nicely with the band's overall hard edge.  Her gutsy vocal stylings were evocative of Tanya Donelly, beloved lead singer of Belly and Throwing Muses.  The unremitting fuzz, distortion and reverb of her guitar assault actually dovetailed quite nicely with the SARS-like contagious melodies showcased by the band's tunes.

Mono-monikered bassist French (Pretty cool, huh?), looking like the love child of Gwyneth Paltrow and Soundgarden bassist Ben Sheppard, galloped through each song with angry, buzzing bass lines.  Looking spectacularly non-committal and decidedly indie throughout most of the performance, Ms. French impressed with her cool detachment, blowing the audience away from the comfortable perch of her pedestal/stage.
Of particular note is drummer/human metronome Nadia King.  I'd hate to be a bass drum anywhere within five-hundred feet of this girl, since she beat that thing like it owed her money.  If the earnest efforts of her two bandmates didn't already request the attention of the audience Nadia's performance demanded it.  Her attack on the drum kit often came in the form of thunder-clap-like double-strikes which had you reaching for a nitroglycerin tablet.     

So impressed was I by their efforts that I had to purchase their CD during the break.  I've since had the chance to give it a spin and it's a well-paced album, betraying some formative lyrics and starting out kinda twinkly in comparison to their immediate raw stage showing.  The album culminates nicely, however, with "Lady Bones", "Queen of Hearts" and "All the Red Feelings".  Highly recommended.

During the break Glasvegas lead guitarist Rab Allan and bassist Paul Donoghue came out to wow the gals manning the merch table while a nearby fan asked me to take a photo of her posing with French from Magneta Lane.  Jeez, these bands are downright mingly!

Glasvegas took to the stage under the building strains of the French (no, not that French) spoken word piece "Pain Pain, Never Again".  The looping, increasingly truncated message folded into a chorus of rising keyboards and cheers as the band emerged onto the darkened stage, illuminated only by lead singer James Allen's trademark fiber-optic microphone cord.

They segued without further ado into "The World is Yours" and the air was soon laden with Allan's heavy molten brogue.  Attired all in white and sporting dark sunglasses, acid-washed jeans, a substantial pompadour and a Andy-Warhol approved, locally-sourced banana belt buckle, Allen looked part 50's greaser, part Joe Strummer and part 80's ponce.

Allen (as well as the audience) seemed a bit tentative at first but he quickly found his comfort zone.  Say what you want, but this boy's got pipes he's clearly in his element mid-croon.  Guitarist/sibling Rab Allan cut some mean grooves in accompaniment, strumming out some frantic chordage and nattering away during the verses.  The energy and passion was immediately self-evident and this quickly colored the audience's appraisal of the band.

The stage plunged onto darkness again leaving James's microphone and cord dancing in mid-air like a long tailed spermatozoa.  When the lights came up again it was to the tune of "You", a rollicking song which saw the lead singer's vocals climb to dizzying heights, raising the hackles on more then one spine.

Once again the band was able to translate the relatively beak and spare canvas of the original studio recording into live audio dynamite.  This was particularly notable in the way new drummer Jonna Löfgren (looking like a reserve member of The Hives in her black suit, tie, dark glasses and wind-blown hair) punched up her delivery with a vicious pummeling of the stand-up drum kit.        

For a band traditionally accused of shoe-gazing these guys were actually pretty dynamic to watch.  When James wasn't mummifying himself in his mike cord or arching his spine to deliver a punishing note, he was crouching cat-like or taking a brief on-stage siesta during "It's My Own Cheating Heart", which kept all eyes front and center.

The familiar arraignment of "Cheating Heart" resulted in temporary mass hysteria as well as a spontaneous group singalong.  The electricity between the band and its adoring onlookers continued to build especially in the wake of Rab Allan's chill-inducing guitar scales.

"Shine Like Stars" marked a return to the synthier sound of the new album but mercifully the live translation was a lot more spare, immediate and in yo' face.

After thanking the city of Toronto for it's unflagging support, the band launched into "Whatever Hurts You Through The Night".  Once again this interpretation stripped away the dirge of studio overproduction and gave stalwart bassist Paul Donaghue a chance to perform double duty with bone rattling guttural base notes and some keyboard tinkering as well.  In many ways, this track feels like a B-side for their first album since it's well in step with the retro 50's sensibilities that characterized their debut.       

Midway through the song James took a moment to do an impromptu interview with front row audience member "Josh".  Between the vocalist's nearly indecipherable Scottish accent and Josh's dazed Stockholm Syndrome-style replies the stilted parley results in building-wide hysterics.  The band then crashed through the rest of the song to considerable fanfare.

"Lonesome Swan" saw the band set a new benchmark for itself.  Jonna Löfgren took the opportunity to whale the bejesus out of her drum kit again, rattling teeth and causing an outbreak of stomping and clapping in the process.

"Euphoria, Take my Hand" gave Löfgren yet another chance to shine, propelling an already dynamic tune into a hand-clapping, rollicking good time for the masses.  In fact, on the band's signature track "Geraldine" which followed, it could be argued that she gave a bit too much mustard, almost threatening to leave her band mates behind in a cloud of tempo-dust.  I'm pretty sure you can see guitarist Rab Allan pop back to her kit towards the middle of the song and implore her to mind her speed.  Throughout it all, the audience was blissfully oblivious.

Fucking fantastic.

In the rockin' wake of its predecessors, "Ice Cream Van", perhaps the most somber track on their debut album, was actually kicked up a notch.   "Go Square Go", which I always chalked up as a no-brainer show opener, also makes for a a very effective show closer as it turn out.  Most of the lyrics were shouted back to the band by the audience as they pogo-ed around in their St.Vitus-style sonic rapture.

Stirred up like angry hornets, the crowd stomped, clapped, chanted and screamed until their patrons returned to the stage for an obligatory encore.  As if in contrast to the upscale interpretation of "Ice Cream Van", the band opted to strip down the normally boisterous "Flowers and Football Tops" to a mere shadow of its former self.  If anything, it certainly gave James Allan a chance to wow the audience with another stellar vocal performance.

This version of the song was likely just a thinly-veiled extended break for the band allowing them to deliver an incredible finale.  This included a punishing version of "S.A.D. Light" which built from it's slow burn into a ballistic concussive battery.  This attitude carried over into a lively rendition of "Lots Sometimes".  Although the original studio track drum line sounds vaguely like a keyboard country beat stuck on "DEMO", Jonna Löfgren managed to pack her live performance with dazzling rolls, fills and a bombastic flourish which left everyone within earshot slack-jawed in amazement.

Although you could make a compelling case for "Geraldine" as an obvious closer, "Daddy's Gone" was more then a suitable substitute.  Even more so, I suppose, given the song's tremendous build-up as well as its sing-along potential.  The gathered were more more then happy to oblige and by the time the band played it's last notes, holstered their instruments and bade farewell to the adoring crowd you got a sence that both band and audience were happily sated.

Congratulations, guys, you did it.  Henceforth, my faith in you is now officially unwavering.

Now, excuse me, I gotta go set up my "I Love Glasvegas" Facebook page.  

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