Offbeat Synth-Electro-Rock is the Name of the Game

photo by Bill Sitzmann

One-man band Robert DeLong opened the night, bringing his quirky brand of hard to classify electronic party rock (not nearly as ridiculous as LMFAO) to a sparsely packed Commodore. Originally from Seattle, he relocated to L.A. after high school and drummed for several indie-rock and folk bands. According to his bio, he learned the do-it-yourself way to create electronic sounds and beats using computer programs and other electronic devices and has put out a few tracks of original material as well as remixing others’ material. For this show, he alternated between a full drum kit with a headphone mic over top of his pre-programmed sounds, played a synthesizer-MIDI type device, fooled around with a mixer, and used a Nintendo Wii controller to create noises. Many one-person performances are great and a lot are not. Robert Delong was somewhere in the middle. His energy and enthusiasm for his material were obvious and while it was interesting seeing him multitasking and dancing up on his drum stool, his seemingly disjointed songs need a bit more work before recommending to your friends.

After being on the scene for only two years, Toronto duo Trust are making a name for themselves in the synth-pop/dark-wave genre. Last performing here in mid-July at The Biltmore Cabaret and mid-April at the Electric Owl, they are in the midst of a fall European and North American tour (with Yeasayer, The Faint, and some solo shows) that started in September and goes until mid-December.

I first heard about these guys on the CBC Radio 3 website about a year and a half ago and was instantly attracted to their song Candy Walls”. This was before their debut album TRST was released at the end of February this year and info was really minimal. The album has gotten pretty solid reviews.

Live, synth player and percussionist Maya Postepski (who also plays drums in Austra) and singer Robert Alfons were joined by another synth player fellow who looked like he was playing a rig similar to Postepski’s. While there wasn’t much rocking out on the instruments, front man Alfons danced and lurched around the stage like he was on heavy medication. Although his vocal delivery didn’t suffer, there were times watching his bouncy spasms and rolled-back eyes where I genuinely wondered if he was flying high on something or if that was just how he gets into the music. His vocals were a mix of deeper goth-sounding bellows and nasally child-like warbles; it’s strange to see a skinny kid who appears to be in his mid-twenties with such a unique vocal style that didn’t seem too campy.

Trust played six songs in roughly 30 minutes, abruptly leaving the stage at 9:30 after album closer “Sulk”, not bothering to say anything or wave. Trust are a Canadian band to watch out for.

Omaha, Nebraska’s The Faint were big during the “dance-rock”, “post-punk revival” and/or “new-New Wave” scene that caught on in the early 2000s and lost popularity a few years later. Some of their well-known peers included The Rapture, The Bravery, !!!, Franz Ferdinand, and Abbotsford’s own You Say Party! We Say Die! (now called You Say Party).  The Faint’s last album, 2008’s Fasciinatiion, – for which the band decided to leave their influential Saddle Creek Records, opting to produce and release it on their own – got mixed reviews. They haven’t really done much since except recently release a four-song EP on vinyl for this tour. Saddle Creek is releasing a special deluxe remastered version of their popular 2001 album Danse Macabre on November 19th, so the band decided to do a 24-city North American tour and play it live in its entirety.

Kicking off with “Dropkick the Punks” and “Desperate Guys” off of 2004’s Wet From Birth, and older song “Victim Convenience”, they showcased some of their more riff-based material with singer/synth player Todd Fink picking up a guitar and joining former death metal guitarist/bassist Dapose. One could not tell that he used to be a “shredder”. They were completed by keyboardist player Jacob Thiele and Fink’s brother Clark Baechle on drums. There was also a guy perched on an Apple Mac on the side of the stage who looked like he was somehow involved in the performance possibly for lights or samples although he didn’t move and stared both at the band and his computer screen. When I asked my friend what she thought he was using the laptop for, she said “online dating”. Thanks, smart-ass.

For the rest of the show, Fink alternated between synth and microphone, voice sounding strong like on their recordings. It must not be easy to reproduce some of the electronic sounds and beats with live instruments and without computer wizardry, but they pulled it off. After five or six songs they switched over to the aforementioned tracks off Danse Macabre; opener “Agenda Suicide had some of us in the crowd singing along to its lyrics about the death of the American Dream. The Danse Macabre material flew by rather uneventfully, then they played Fasciinatiion’s “The Geeks Were Rightand “Mirror Error”. They closed their set with a faithful electro-fied cover of Sonic Youth’s “Mote”, which they have been doing for several years now, and early bouncer “Worked Up So Sexual”, which brought out some of the most intense dancing of the evening.

After a few minutes break and once the smoke machines and strobe lights were charged up again, The Faint returned for the encore and introduced new song “Evil Voices”, which is fine but nothing progressive. They ended their hour and a half set with Wet From Birth’s “I Disappear and “Paranoiattack”.

Although there weren’t any real problems with the music played, I felt that it lacked a bit of substance and they seemed at times like an old band going through the motions. I suppose they only play sporadically due to the change in the musical landscape and other life commitments such as family. This interview from September 2011 finds them talking about not wanting to milk old material and staying together as a band, and how they may never release another proper album.

So what’s in store for The Faint? Will there be a resurgence in the scene or will they just fade away like their eighties heroes have? Perhaps an age-old economic principle applies here – it all comes down to supply and demand.