Full disclosure: I write this from the perspective of a 32 year old. That’s right, a 32 year old at a concert. That guy. Shouldn’t you be married? Or shouldn’t you be working overtime at the office? Shouldn’t you have brought your kid with the industrial ear protection? Yes. Anyway, I look at different things when I go to a concert. In fact I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a concert in that devout save-me-music-gods way since 2006. (That was when I was 26, and even then, I was kind of faking it out of nostalgia). Nowadays I go and analyze everything but the music.
Beta-Frontiers: When I showed up at the Drake Underground Beta Frontiers had already begun. I thought they were the house DJs. Their faces were illuminated by their laptops as they played to a dispersed talkative crowd. They had a few groups of friends dancing in isolated circles. The crowd here, and throughout the night, could be best described as “mixed race bohemians”. That’s how I would create my ad strategy to the suits, and probably get nowhere. Anyway, on closer inspection these weren’t just DJs they had some other gear like some sort of MPC and lots of mixers. One of them also had a moustache and a striped shirt – these couldn’t JUST be DJs. I assume these were their tracks, which were pretty nice! But don’t go ahead and add a drummer next time. One day you will be Jay Z Beta Frontiers, but stick to what you do best.
Times Neue Roman: Fuller disclosure: I played bass with Times Neue Roman (Alexander The and Arwobe X3) in Vancouver. I love their take on rap, and I’ll admit I like both guys. Last time I moved to Toronto, Alexander The told me with a steely glare, “Toronto is the land of opportunity, choose wisely”. It was intense. I got scared and moved back to Vancouver. Arowbe and I met in New York when I was in this period of being really isolated and drunk. We checked out some pretty fresh rap and played beer pong with American girls. Chill guy. This puts them in line with a great lineage of rap odd-couples like Outkast, Public Enemy, and PM Dawn.
This evening Times Neue Roman showed up with a drum kit and DJ Menza. Don’t worry, they didn’t go all rap-rock. Papa Roach are rolling in their graves. Presumably on a VH1 show. When I first saw Times Neue Roman perform in 2007 it was just two of them and it was great, so they didn’t have to go all Come-Come-my-Lady. Alexander The is a rocker and this comes across in his stage performance. He looks comfortable in front of a kit, rocking his MicroMoog like any notorious axeman. They started with their great single “Sade is in my Tapedeck” but flipped the summery layed-back song into a dancehall rave-up. This had the now packed dance-floor dancing. All the girls were going nuts grinding with each other, and there was a 32 year old stage left air-grinding with a beer in hand from a fair distance (that’s me!). All the old songs were mastered and there were some new songs in there that held their own. At this point I want to reference all the nineties futurist tunes and imagery these guys pull up for me but I’m just gonna say for the record this is where pop rap-rock begins and ends:
Phedre: Fullest Disclosure: have you heard that band Disclosure? Their first EP was pretty good. Just trying to pander to the kids, BB. I don’t know any bands past 2004. Anyhow, at this point the crowd was ready to party. I had no idea what to expect from Phedre other than their flawless single this year, “In Decay”.
The video for “In Decay” is like an MO for their whole aesthetic. Budget decadence, Dionysian apathy, dreamy what-the-fuckery, all come together with a playful oddball outlook. Musically they take on these forms via the 80s, when rap and funk were more fun. What I’m getting at is early 80s New York, when bands of various genres, artists, and the streets all came together for one big line of coke.
Phedre’s singer has this David Bowie baritone, and the band’s, what best can be described as “talker”, reminds me of when bands cared more to have a kid on their album like Tom Tom Club or Chandra instead of say, Cher. Cher could have played the whole art-school-bad-singer thing if she really wanted to, but then she wouldn’t be Cher. And the world would be a colder place. Did I mention said “talker” made her entrance riding a druid, as their gold painted backup dancer played a trumpet? The projections all night included fantasy styled paintings of Dinosaurs and Cavemen and lions attacking Dragons and some screensaver-styled tigers. It was very impressive. When the beats came on it reminded me of a grimy version of Walk the Dinosaur.
Halfway into the set a sexy-tech beat came on leading into a 60s style RnB ballad. The main singer, who wore an eyes wide shut mask all night with a mish mash of paleo-lithic and antique-store accessories, really displayed his singing chops on this song. I was down. But, this confused me since some songs he sings with an ironic humanoid apathy – which personally I found dragged things down a bit. Maybe some people like that. Still, I found him entertaining in a good drowsy-self-effacing way. Guy is funny.
Phedre is a wonderful DIY collage of sounds and images – the stage show was a perfect meld of Greek tragedy, and low tech reinterpretation of 10,000 BC’s wrap party. The music was an equal collage that worked undeniably best when their melodies soared: after a slow jam dip, the crowd was back on board as they played “In Decay” and the place went as nuts as the people on stage. As the song finished, a screwed version of JLo’s “I’m Real” played them out. “Finally, a song I can get down to!” I thought, and snuck away to my bed. Phedre IS real. So real they opened for Arial Pink the next week, a show I did not go see because I lied to my wife about getting diapers and just hid in the basement trying to figure out why I don’t get young people.
In summary, hot for fall 2012:
Review by: Pat