Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Besnard Lakes, Malajube (presented by Manic Productions), The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT - Sat., 8 Oct 2011

Hartford's The Wadsworth Antheneum had the pleasure to host some of the best current French-Canadian Indie rock bands in Montreal's Malajube and The Besnard Lakes last weekend. Before launching into a discussion of this excellent show hosted by New Haven based Indie promoting staple Manic Productions, allow me to discuss the venue, which, I think, is as good as any that I've been to in CT (at the very least). The Wadsworth's downstairs theater is a ~300 soft-seater with a full stage and incredible sound system. The walls of the theater were adorned with murals of soldiers and horses (which really fit quite nicely with The Besnard Lakes' "...Are The Dark Horses" 2007 album vibe). Outside of the theater, there were small circular tables with ~5 seats/table, a small bar (where I had my first Hooker Octoberfest of the season), a large merchandise stand and large realist paintings with a distinctive French Revolutionary War feel. It's really quite the rare jewel in a mostly barren city for live Indie music (I lived in Hartford for 8 years, so I am speaking from experience not prejudice).

Although the show was originally slated for three bands including the local outfit Smoke Signals, the Facebook invite was changed several days before to just feature two bands. My fiancĂ© and I arrived in media res to find Malajube already in the middle of their set. I knew nothing about the band going into the performance, but I was initially struck by the high pitched vocals and mostly incomprehensible lyrics. I took me a few songs to realize that they were singing in French! The band had an excellent stage presence, and their songs adhered closely to what I've come to identify as a Canadian Indie sound in the vein of Arts and Crafts bands like Broken Social Scene and Stars but with a more post-punk influence than those aforementioned bands. Overall, I thought that their set was up-and-down, but there were definitely a few stand-out tracks. Subsequent research revealed that Malajube is on Dare to Care (Canada) with U.S. distribution by MB3. After being nominated for two Polaris Awards (a Canadian music award for original artistic achievement with a price tag attached), they are touring the U.S. with The Besnard Lakes in support of 2011’s “La Caverne,” which is their 4th full length. Check out some of the live footage that I captured below:

Between sets, several friends were interviewed by a Montreal-based video news crew on tour with the bands. The questions seemed focused on the American perception of the many great Montreal-based Indie bands that have hit the airwaves since the late 90s, e.g. godspeed you! black emperor, The Dears and Arcade Fire. After this brief intermission, The Besnard Lakes hit the stage. The most notable feature was the guitar rack with 5+ guitars and lead singer’s Jace Lasek’s distinctive attire replete with aviator-style transitions and floral pattern button down shirt (a staple of their live performances). Before going on, I just wanted to give a disclaimer that I enjoy most of the bands on the psych rock-heavy Indiana-based label Jagjaguwar, and The Besnard Lakes are no exception. I first heard their sophomore 2007 release “…Are the Dark Horses” and immediately enjoyed their admixture of psych, prog and bombastic stadium rock, which they pull off seamlessly. I was then expecting to be disappointed with their 2010 release “…Are The Roaring Night,” and was pleasantly wrong. Both albums capture a certain flair and bravado that is totally lost in contemporary Indie, i.e. the desire to be rock stars, and they do it in a way that is not at all cloying or cheesy. Some of the closest comparators in this respect are not American or Canadian but 90s British rock bands like (The) Verve and Oasis, who unfortunately were sometimes (or often in the case of Oasis) cloying or cheesy in their path to rockdom.

The Besnards immediately launched into their ~60 minute set with a few choice tracks from “…Are The Roaring Night,” and those in attendance familiar with their sound immediately rose from their soft seats in support to gawk and dance. The climaxes were punctuated by an impressive light show that varied between straight white, straight red, strobe and admixtures of swirling red-and-white (see the videos below). After clipping through many tracks off of the aforementioned album, they returned to some hits off “…Are the Dark Horse,” which the crowd was eager to receive. Before playing “Disaster,” Jace called out to someone expected to be in attendance to clap, and, when they received no reply, he offered, “He’s stoned…he can’t clap that fast,” which received audience laughter. Nevertheless, the medley of “Disaster” into “Devastation” had no one laughing. Instead, most were struggling to keep their jaws closed as the band totally hit their stride at this juncture in a powerfully climactic cacophony. After some slow claps of encouragement, The Besnards returned to the stage to play a two song encore that was also well-received. My sole complaint with the show was that it was often difficult to hear bassist and singer, Olga Goreas’, vocals in the mix, especially during the first few songs. However, the performance and the sound was otherwise perfect.

As we were leaving, The Besnards were outside having a cigarette, and they proved to be an affable lot. We provided some history on the Wadsworth by informing them of the oft-cited contention that it is the first established art history museum in the U.S. They then asked, “Is it haunted?” and explained that, during their set, they heard someone(thing) called the drummer’s name without anyone on stage speaking the word. In true October spirit, we replied that the museum may be haunted. They also had some great merchandise for sale, and I picked up this awesome unidentifying shirt of a kitty astronaut in space. Olga said, “Yeah, the Cat-stronaut,” which is how I will refer to this shirt from now on.

In sum, this was another incredible booking by Manic Productions at what is currently the most underrated venue in CT. I am also posting some footage of The Besnards’ set, but, unfortunately, I did (and am still kicking myself for) not capture “Disaster” into “Devastation.” Yet, you’ll hear just how great the mix was even on these iPhone4 captures:

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