Baths + Braids
5 Feb 2011: The Mohawk Austin, TX
Will Wiesenfeld, most commonly known by his stage name Baths, and Montreal upstarts Braids are an interesting combination for sharing a bill. One is a beat producing wizkid with his feet firmly planted in the world of pop while the other crafts dense, highly experimental dream-pop with the force of a post-rock band. Despite their musical differences, there was no denying the fact that these two groups share an enthusiastic and qualitative approach to performing. Braids and Baths managed to transform The Mohawk stage into their own exhibitions of craft and skill, and it helped make the near record lows that had plagued central Texas leading up to the show a distant memory.
A sizable crowd had gathered by the time Braids took the stage, and with good reason. The young Canadians recently released one of the first great debuts of 2011 with Native Speaker, an album filled with emotional outbursts, moments of restrained beauty, and an overall musical maturity from the group beyond their years. That same fully realized sound was brought to the stage through the group’s tightness as musicians. One could tell from looking at the amount of concentration on guitarist Taylor Smith’s face that the band was serious about playing every note to precision. Guitars chimed, synths swirled, and the percussion pulsated through each of their songs, such as the stunningly gorgeous “Lemonade” and the wall of sound that was “Native Speaker”. Despite the seriousness and depth of the music being played, the band was all smiles throughout their set, demonstrating a level of comfort and confidence that is rare for a band on their first big tour.
Braids’ primary weapon is the almost otherworldly voice of lead singer/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston. Within set opener “Glass Deers” alone, she demonstrated that her abilities to shift her voice from a delicate muse to a forceful and unhinged cry was something that came naturally to her, as she pulled it off with little to no effort. Standell-Preston’s voice was given an even wider space to breath thanks to the vocal contributions of keyboardist Katie Lee, and the arrangements were the perfect backdrop for her to sing of the heartache and torment that constitute most of her lyrics. During “Native Speaker”, she put down her guitar and stood angelically at the microphone, and whether it was intentional or not, it was the perfect metaphor for her abilities as a singer. Though the group only was able to play five or six songs (granted, the average song length was about six minutes), Braids more than proved themselves as one of the most exciting new bands to come from Montreal in the last couple of years.
When Braids left the stage, even more people gathered on all three levels of The Mohawk. After a quick setup, Wiesenfeld was ready and eager to perform. One of the first things that people would notice about him was how eccentric of a person he is. He was genuinely excited to be sharing his songs with the audience, and they returned the favor by immediately moving to set opener “Apologetic Shoulderblades”. Throughout his set, it was easy to see the connection Wiesenfeld felt with each of his tracks, as he bobbed his head and twisted his knobs with the same attention to detail that a surgeon would use. This sort of connection perhaps was best exemplified on fan favorite “Animals”, where he acted out samples of children making animal noises with his arms and facial expressions. His onstage persona was nothing short of infectious, as he was dead set on everyone having a great time.
Wiesenfeld’s music is a combination of nearly sublime ambience with schizophrenic beats, yet he performed with such emotion and finesse that he was able to sell his seemingly odd combination without a hitch. The retro piano lines of “You’re My Excuse To Travel” were met with an ecstatic vocal from Wiesenfeld and a shuffling drum arrangement, while “Lovely Bloodflow” had a sort of retro soul feel to it. Additionally, he played a few new songs that showed potential directions he could take on the follow up to last year’s Cerulean. One of the songs had an almost industrial feel to it, with lyrics like “I am the ocean / Return the earth to the water,” and “I’m gonna bury your body in my graveyard” to contribute to the overall haunted vibe of the track. Even when singing these more ominous lyrics, Wiesenfeld kept his energy level high and his persona intact. By the time he had finished his set with another new song, the audience that had been moving for nearly an hour straight gave him a rapturous applause.
Both of these young acts have bright futures ahead of them, and it was evident from their performances that they have the live aspects of their music down to an art form. There was not a dull moment to be found in both their sets, and the audience stayed engaged the entire time. While they may have been an odd combination on show posters, the undeniable talents of Baths and Braids united them to make for an evening of musical bliss that could easily make anyone forget about their freezing feet.