There have been some solid all-around-shows this year, but this one might take the cake. Not only was the co-headlining bill of Plants & Animals and The Deep Dark Woods enticing enough, but adding Rah Rah as the opener was just perfection.
The last time I saw Rah Rah, their seven members were cramped on stage, so they had a bit more room at the Commodore, even if they only utilized half of the stage. They opened with "Art & A Wife", the first single and opening track from their latest album The Poet's Dead, and the older "Tentacles"; the undeniable catchyness and and near-perfect boy/girl vocals of both songs set the stage for their too-short-set. "Prairie Girl" saw Erin Passmore come out from behind the drums taking over on keys, and showing off her incredibly strong vocals and "Beaches" featured a bit of a percussion breakdown, with half the band grabbed drumsticks to knock on random objects, then gather 'round the drum kit for the explosive ending. After about half an hour, they tossed their set decorations -- their inflatable R, A and H -- into the crowd to pass around as they ended with my favourite song of theirs, "Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel", a gorgeous song full of raw emotion and heartache.
They put on an incredibly fun set, and even though it's the third time I've seen them since the spring, each time has felt too short and has left me wanting more.
Next up was co-headliner, The Deep Dark Woods. I had heard a lot of good things about the band, but I had just never got a chance to get into them, so I was very interested to see them live. And they definitely lived up to the hype. With some excellent, moody back-lighting the folky, rootsy four piece -- with an almost country twang -- was driven by some amazing guitar work from Burke Barlow and the low and rich vocals of Ryan Boldt.
Part way through the set, Kendel Carson come out to accompany them on violin for a few songs, adding a nice layer to the already deep and lush songs, and they sprinkled the set with the occasional guitar solo, or extended jamming; at times it felt like they were just completely improvising -- likely the case when they had a technical malfunction with the keys and the rest of the band covered and kept going. But it never crossed the line into boring or self-indulgent, the skilled musicians always keeping the interest of the crowd.
The set lasted for a little over an hour, and the Saskatoon band definitely gained a fan in me that night, and no doubt more than a few others in the crowd as well.
And rounding out the night was Montreal's Plants & Animals. The last time I saw them, earlier this year, it was in a venue that I am... not very fond of... so I was especially excited to see them at the Commodore once more. Kicking off the set with one of the few songs to rock with an autoharp, "Bye Bye Bye", the trio -- who are joined by a bass player while on tour -- brought an incredible energy right out of the gate, and had people singing along to the chorus.
The band creates a sound so rich that you would swear there's twice as many of them on stage, and the tunes manage to stride that line between complex and catchy, usually managing to be both. One of the highlights was one such example, the quirky "Crisis", one of my favourites off their new album The End Of That. They also took a page out of Van Morrison's songbook and covered "Into The Mystic", during which one concert-goer decided it would be the perfect time to pop the question, proposing to his girlfriend in the front row. She said yes, and they caught the attention of the band, who cheered them on.
After the high speed "The Mama Papa", they ended it off with "Lightshow", only to come back for a couple more; one of my favourite songs, "Mercy" which starts out energetic enough then explodes into a frenzy of guitars, a chanted chorus, and general revelry. That would have been a perfect ending, but they had one more for the crowd, another cover, "Foggy Notion" from The Velvet Underground.
Any of these three bands I would be more than willing to see on their own, and even though their styles differ, and it seems like it might have been an odd fit on paper, they ended up coming together quite well, making it one of the best "all around" shows I've seen this year.
Bye Bye Bye, Song for Love, Kon Tiki, 2010, Good Friend, Crisis, Into the Mystic [Van Morrison cover], Lola Who?, The Mama Papa, Lightshow.
(encore) Mercy, Foggy Nation [Velver Underground cover]