Wednesday, 12 May 2010

LIVE REVIEW: Caribou & Toro y Moi at Music Hall of Williamsburg

For a man whose chosen musical monicker evokes imagery of calm tranquility in the Canadian mountains, Dan Snaith of Caribou certainly is packing a lot of sonic weaponry. Lining up dual drum kits front and centre, flanked by keyboards, the usual amp stacks, and any number of supporting musical accouterments, no-one can accuse this eclectic gentleman of lacking aural adventure. 

Before we get to see how these items will be applied, however, there's the intriguing prospect of (g)lo-fi/chillwave/pick-your-sub-genre purveyor Chaz Bundick to explore, supporting under the guise of current project Toro y Moi

Where on record Toro y Moi probe the subtleties of the lilting bliss kicked up by whatever this genre prefers to be labelled, the live show here adds a full band and kicks a heavy bass mix to the fore. As a result, although a weightier momentum is added to some of the songs, many of the carefully crafted nuances are sucked up and lost in the black hole of the thumping beats. Bundick does his level best to wrestle melodies from the mix with some earnest singing and heartfelt work on the keys, yet you can't help but feel a smaller room and less extreme levels would bring out the true textures of the music beneath.

All of which could bode ill for Caribou, given some of the intricate indie-pop melodies present on previous album Andorra, or the layered, semi-psychedelic leanings of its predecessor The Milk of Human Kindness. Turn the page to current release Swim, however, and any concerns begin to recede. Ever the musical chameleon, Snaith has taken a much more electronic direction this time around, with an emphasis firmly on pulsing beats. Faced with a Friday night crowd to entertain and a sound system that can clearly handle a dance party, the stage is set for the newer material to shine. 

Of course this preamble means that an Andorra tune, Sundialing, actually kicks things off. A pleasant, shining build up of a song, it merely sets the foundation for the triumphs to come. The pulsating rhythms of newie Leave House are punctuated by one of the many extraneous instruments, this one a scratchy effect with a name that escapes me. The songs are made distinct from their recorded brethren as such embellishments are added, built, and destroyed within as many minutes, creating an extra air of excitement around the direction Snaith will push them at any given moment.

Not until the anthemic Melody Day do the effects really become crystal clear, though, as the previously smooth tones from the Polaris Prize winning album version are souped up with meaty guitar lines, a greater tempo, and bass that can't fail to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Firmly established on stage, the next trick is a supreme version of Bowls - easily the most dance oriented cut from Swim - extended, warped, and forged into the kind of progressive club indietronica that it would be hard to imagine another artist crafting. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Snaith discussed liquid sound, building and destroying the songs he creates. Of the entire set, this exemplifies his vision, as the twin drums feed off one another and synths interlace to hold the entire thing together.

MP3: Caribou - Melody Day (via Insound)
Taken from new album Swim, out now

Buy it at Insound!

Not content to simply bend minds, the more accessible Odessa follows to ease the audience back into familiar territory, only to be bookmarked by more staccato beats from Andorra thereafter. Kalli and Sun are further highlights, as is the jam-heavy encore that rounds out a powerful set. In truth, though, it's the skillful weaving together of all these ostensibly disparate songs that provides the overall high point of the night. Certainly, at times the performers could be accused of lingering in a particular loop or dragging out a psych-heavy jam, but given that this approach is what provides most of the set highs it would be churlish to linger on such minor quibbles.

Anyone in attendance that expected such an energetic, adventurous exploration of genres was prepared enough to understand just what a great Friday night out they were in for before Caribou took the stage. For the rest of us, it's arguable that much of the fun was wrapped up in hearing such a diverse master class unfold. Whichever group you fall into, this one undoubtedly goes down as a tick in the 'Triumph' column.

Brooklyn Vegan took some fine snaps from this show, featured in this post.

Check out this NPR stream of Caribou's D.C. show for some idea of how powerful the live performance has become. The Toro y Moi set from the night is also available.

This review is also featured over at our friends at GigMaven.

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