Thursday, March 29, 2007

Live Review: The Besnard Lakes

March 27th, 2007

Jackpot Music Hall

Lawrence, KS

I am one lucky man. I have a flexible, decent paying job. An amazing girlfriend that loves me. A family that supports me. Great friends that to this day still think I'm cool, or interesting, or find some redeeming quality in me that keeps the friendship going.

In addition to those very, very important things, I'm also lucky that I have enough intelligence and intuition to know when I need to get my ass to the venue in time to see the band(s) I want to see.

For example, the previous night's Man Man concert started 10 minutes or less within my (re)arrival at the venue, and for this night's Besnard Lakes, I walked in about 30 seconds into the first song of the night, "Ride the Rails", and its a good thing too, because if I had missed this show, or too much more of it, I would have been seriously bummed. Not necessarily because the the Besnard Lakes are life alteringly good live, they are not quite up to that par (yet), but more because their latest album Are the Dark Horse is one of my current favorites. This album has not left my CD player for very many extended periods, and slowly but surely it is gaining new converts amongst my friends as well.

"Ride the Rails" fit the bill as an appropriate opener. In concert, without the added string players, it came off sounding more shoegaze than on the record, which is certainly not an insult. Right away I was pleased to know that, despite the stripped down sound many of the songs would have, the band was more than capable of pulling them off. I was also refreshed to hear the vocals a little more clearly than on the album, where they're often buried in the mix and caked in reverb.

The band wasted no time in pulling out "Devastation", the album's centerpiece. I was worried that they might be "blowing their load" (an expression some friends of mine and I have when a band plays their best song of the set much too early), a fear that went unfounded. Of all the songs that point to tinges of Pink Floyd and other classic rock bands, "Devastation" seems like the most obvious offender of the bunch. Again, not an insult. I was still a little surprised how much they played up to that image on this song by employing - no, I'm not kidding - a smoke machine! The band restrained themselves from going too over the top, there were no lasers or flying pigs, but still, I haven't seen this trick since Local H. Okay, that may have been an insult. Regardless of how cheesy the smoke machine was, the song actually came off less cheesy in person, and I'm actually a little disappointed that I was the only one singing along with the repeated chorus of "Devastation/(air guitar)/Devastation".

"For Agent 13" came next, and it is at this point I have to mention that Jace, towering frame, slightly ogre-ish mug and all, looks nothing like I imagined the person with this beautiful voice would look like. I know that sounds harsh. I know that not everyone can be hipster chic like Jonsi from Sigur Ros or Cedric from the Mars Volta, and that, most importantly, looks do not matter whatsoever. I know. But still, it was strange. Anyway, the song was fucking fantastic. The vocal harmony at the end was perfect at the end, and the song, like all of their moodier numbers, came off heavier live.

Next came "On Bedford and Grand", which the band dedicated to the night's headliners, whom Jace called "the Dirty On Purposes." Someone then asked if Jace was drunk, to which he jokingly replied that he somehow got smashed in the last minutes while trying to tell the story of why it was dedicated to the band.

After "Bedford", the band proceeded to play all of my favorite songs from the album. "Because Tonight" came first, the emotional weight of the song not lost despite the lack of strings. In addition to making slower songs rock more, they also use an E-Bow in place of strings on a couple of songs, most noticeably this one. And again, the vocals were pitch perfect. "Disaster" came next, and rocked harder and longer than I ever expected. I know, that sounds dirty (on purpose?) During this song I felt like I was at a Built to Spill show, where running length of songs and volume are not necessarily a big deal, which might sound like an insult, but its not.

Lastly, the band played "And You Lied To Me", the best song to go out on in my opinion. The song moves along at a nice pace for about 5 minutes, and sounds good enough in the process, before the devil-horns-in-the-air guitar solo hits you like a acid flashback. The band rocked this song out a few extra minutes, before going completely Sonic Youth on the crowd and hunching over amps and pedals to get a monstrously pulsating wall of feedback, which was a nice treat for a Sonic Youth obsessee like myself. When it was over, the band thanked the audience for coming out, and I left the venue with my ears ringing, my head spinning, and feeling a little loopier than I had when I entered.

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