November 16, 2007

Canadian bands play powerful sets

I can’t think of a better combination. Apostle of Hustle and Do Make Say Think are both Broken Social Scene affiliates, but their sounds are so different that the two of them combined provided a powerful performance last Saturday.

Apostle of Hustle looked a bit slimmer this year with only the core trio present (they had two more members on tour last year), but sounded tighter and more energetic because of it. Lead men Andrew Whiteman and Julian Brown sported heavily distorted electric or bass guitars, while Dean Stone was on drums or the “cajun” box drum.

From the outset, it is clear how Apostle’s music is heavily focused on guitar work and fancy rhythms. Andrew Whiteman is the lead guitarist in his other band, but in Apostle he really gets to show off. He is clearly the driving force behind the band and derives rhythms and riffs from rock-pop as well as Cuban roots. Resonating clearly within the bodies of the crowd, Whiteman’s guitar tone was the dominating factor of the performance and provided an emphasis that felt very welcome after having seen many bands that simply strum a few chords. This was most apparent on the Latin-tinged rock numbers “Fast Pony for Victor Jara” and “Ragafa!” which also had Stone’s box percussion to accompany it. “Cheap Like Sebastian” and “Folkloric Feel” also benefited from the trio arrangement by keeping the songs stripped down but still able to project when needed.

During the last song of Apostle’s set, the band was joined by two members from Do Make Say Think, who then began their own monumental set.

Starting off with about half of the band onstage, Charles Spearin said, “This is our attempt to do something [with our lives].” He then led us into their world with a solo five-string bass line that soon blossomed into a chaotic work involving horns, violin, and two drum sets. The other six members of the band walked onto stage during the song, wielding trumpets, trombones, and saxophones, finishing “Outer & Inner Secret” off with a bang. “Executioner Blues,” “Frederica,” and every other song followed suit: Each one was an attempt to blow the roof off the building. There were innumerable horn swells that built their way up only to let you down and down—until the band exploded with a wall of pure melodic noise.

During “Outer & Inner Secret” I remember doubting if I or the band could take any more; Do Make Say Think kept on pushing themselves, and with songs that ran from 8 to 10 minutes long, the entire night felt like one huge song jammed together. From the moment Spearin started plucking his bass, the members stepped back and worked their magic on their respective instruments, hardly ever coming to the mic to say something to the crowd, only occasionally thanking us for listening. Two of the horn players especially, seemed to be having the time of their lives, as one pranced back and forth across the stage smiling back at his crew when he played piano on the other end. It was an incredibly warm experience.

At the end of the night, it was clear that Apostle of Hustle and Do Make Say Think were meant to tour together, as they are both clearly musicians’ bands—ones that make sure the instrumentation is just as engaging or more engaging than vocals, and ones that have extremely capable performers. Each member of both bands plays a clearly defined role that audibly contributes to the songs, and that’s what live music should all be about. Although Whiteman or Spearin may be said to drive each band, it was the collective atmosphere of both groups that made the show so enjoyable. Like certain other fellow Canadians, sheer power in numbers contributed to an overall effect, but ultimately it was their musicianship that shined.