I think the ideal way to attend a concert, or any artistic performance or exhibit for that matter, is with an open mind, a clean slate. While carrying your preconceptions and hopes of how transcendent the whole experience will be into a show can certainly pay off – as long as reality ends up meeting your lofty hopes.
With Vancouver’s Fond of Tigers, I was able to go in blind, having never heard a second of their material. Having now just scratched the surface of their history, I feel like a shmuck for not having been in the know earlier; these guys already have a Juno under their belt (“Instrumental Category” in 2011, for their 2010 album Continent & Western) and have appeared at a number of festivals, including the Vancouver and Guelph Jazz Festivals, Sled Island, and more.
Fond of Tigers began their set with shuffling drums, powerful bass guitar gonging, and well-defined yet subtle horns. The unnerving, progressive, psych-jazz/rock these guys create is powerful and unique. I could go on and on about the technical prowess displayed on stage, but let’s skip that – just go ahead and assume it. It’s one thing to be a dynamo on your individual instrument but when you bring your talent together with another musician’s, and another (and so on and so forth), that’s when the magic happens. Instead of simply knocking off a set-list song by song, Fond of Tigers played slow-building, engaging movements that meshed together beautifully, ultimately creating original musical scenes of palpable feeling and mood. Some of their music would feel right at home in a disjointed Cronenberg mystery, heightening a relaxed and strange narrative with its own enigmatic energy, to the point where visual and audio become inextricably woven together into some wondrous, shadowy affair. It proved to be all too much for one show-goer who couldn’t help but keel over following their set. One down…
The Biltmore Cabaret was impressively full (for a Monday night) on this first grey day of October. Attendees included The Ballantynes’ Michael McDiarmid as well as Neil Fallon’s doppelganger, not to mention a second partyer who couldn’t keep it together and collapsed by my feet just before Dirty Three took the stage. “You okay, man?” I asked. “Yeah… m’just chillin’…” he said, lying on the floor, eyes closed, comfortable as all hell. As I stared down at him, envious of his unconventional state of comfort, some more reasonable individuals slowly helped him up and ushered him to a nearby booth by the pinball machines. Two down.
Then came in the Dirty Three. “We had a scary drive through North Dakota. If I woulda been Jim Morrison, I woulda written a fuckin’ poem,” the wild and woolly Warren Ellis (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Grinderman) exclaimed as he recounted how they’d almost hit a deer on the way here, but for the vegetarians not to fret, since they had only almost hit it. The deer was left unharmed, unlike the tasty steak they had at a restaurant shortly after the ordeal. Ba-dump tshh.
I’ll go out on a very thick, sturdy limb here and propose that the subject matter and title Ellis gave to the first song of the night was made up on the spot – something about Chris Martin being a hemorrhoid in the deep recesses of Bono’s ass. The hard rock fiddle-jam was followed by one of the better known numbers off their latest album, “Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone”, which saw Ellis’ keys dangerously swerve and cross paths with Jim White’s candid and flourish-filled drumming.
Ellis’ ramblings were nothing if not colourful and entertaining: one song was prefaced with a story of how you know when “you wake up and you realize the problem’s not you, it’s the rest of the world” and getting a gigantic coffee at Starbucks’ and polar bears listening to a re-mastered Bon Jovi album and… what? The song’s actual “title” ended up being something like “I Killed the World in Lake Trout… Trout Lake… Trout Lake! […] Mark Zuckerberg, Eat My Shit”.
Granted, Ellis off-the-cuff narration wasn’t all gold, but it was entertaining, however meandering at times. I tend to want to say the same about Dirty Three’s performance. Don’t get me wrong – there is an undeniable, exciting chemistry at work here in this trio that is thrilling to watch. The artistic, musical virtuosity of each member is surpassed by few. That said, I didn’t find much that stood out.
Maybe I just missed something that night. Maybe I went in with unrealistic expectations. I should have just gone in, ears and musical memory freshly scrubbed, with an untouched canvas. Instead, I left disappointed that I hadn’t been completely blown away, that I wasn’t the third person to lose consciousness that night. It turns out things don’t always happen in threes after all…