Despite the fact that Roger Miller once sang, “Fame and fortune is the game I play”, recognition and success clearly eluded Mission of Burma during their brief initial run. So it’s hard to resent the band for their decision to reform, especially since, unlike some other, recently reunited, Bostonian indie-rock legends, they’ve justified their existence by releasing three new records that make a strong argument for continued relevance.
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Tortoise’s wide ranging, if short, February American tour greeted an eager crowd at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace (their lone Canadian stop) on Thursday February 18th. The show was intensely focused while remaining expertly loose, as their signature experimental, post-rock, jazz flowed with almost no introduction, interruption or chatter. Touring on the strength of their 2009 album, Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise’s show also heavily featured tracks from the older TNT, a setlist choice that was embraced by the crowd. Highlights included “Swung from the Gutters” (which still seems like it needs to be featured in a soundtrack to a Tarantino-esque movie), the still hot, dynamic title track, “TNT” (to which the packed crowd could only nod appreciatively although many of us wanted to dance), and “I Set My Face to the Hillside” with its evocative mood of an otherworldly Spaghetti Western. The new up-tempo single, rock based and typically cheekily-titled, “Prepare Your Coffin”, introduced new layers to the established tones of TNT. The music, whether a short, three minute track or seven minute epic, always seemed to evoke a unique mood and feeling, a mini narrative. All of this music flowed seamlessly through a set that saw band members switch instruments and positions on the suddenly miniscule-looking stage (which was dominated by two drum kits front and centre that faced each other, a nice thouch of further symmetry). Though there was hardly a word spoken to the crowd throughout the set, the musicians, like their wordless musical storytelling, spoke well for themselves, easily drawing the same enthusiasm as many a posturing rocker has clumsily begged for. The only complaint about a near perfect show is that the big sounds of Tortoise were criminally underserved in the confines of a medium sized rock venue like Lee’s. In a perfect scenario they would always, and only, exist in midsummer at mid-evening of an open air music festival with space enough for the masses that should experience this event.
Chicago blues master Buddy Guy had been tearing up the stage but 20 minutes before he ceased playing to admit: “I’m going to mess up tonight…you guys are making me feel good; I’m feeling real fucking good!” And with that Guy chuckled as his fingers danced about the neck of his guitar. In response the audience naturally roared with delight, egging Guy to further unleash his musical spunk.
There may be only two members of Sweden’s Wildbirds & Peacedrums but they manage to make the most of it. Creating an auditory effect that is fully astounding, the married pair graced the stage at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago in a way that suggested they could easily draw attention to themselves in a venue ten times as large.
Mere minutes before The Antlers were scheduled to start their Tuesday night performance at The Phoenix Concert Theatre the stage was a blur of activity. The Brooklyn trio had only just arrived having faced delays at the Canadian border. Thanks to the efforts of an amazingly efficient crew gear was unpacked, plugged in, line checked, and ready to go in less than 15 minutes. The frantic arrival didn’t seem to phase front man Peter Silberman. Grinning, he stepped out to greet an anxious audience and quickly got things underway. Listening to the opening song “Kettering” and watching Silberman metamorphose from a jovial man of smiles and waves into a man devastated by the helplessness of cancer’s insouciant grip was nothing short of amazing. His haunting vocals paired with the dreamy melancholy of Darby Cicci’s keyboards and Michael Lerner’s driving percussion coalesced into a sound machine that consumed the room with its gravity. It’s no wonder the band’s 2009 release, Hospice, has been so critically acclaimed. The Antlers held the crowd’s attention with incredible versions of “Bear” and “Two”, songs filled with emotional heartache that naturally pours from Silberman on stage. Sadly, the brief five-song set only lasted 40 minutes, and despite most fans being in attendance to see the headlining Editors, very few would have complained if they played on.