3 Oct 2008: Lee’s Palace Toronto, Ontario, Canada
David Gedge has been playing music on stage for most of the time I’ve been alive, which is a humbling thought. Clearly he’s settled into it: When the expected-but-annoying cries for all sorts of old tracks rang out between songs, he sung us a little ditty called “I don’t do requests.” He also took care to mention before they started their last song that The Wedding Present don’t do encores and that this tune would actually be their last song. This might make him sound like a killjoy, but really, all the years of touring have done is increase his determination to avoid the silly formulas a lot of bands fall into live. I saw the band with a friend who was largely unfamiliar with the music of The Wedding Present, and not only did they gain a convert (luckily they had copies of Seamonsters at the merch table, so we could start her off properly), but she noted something I don’t think I would have: At one point, between songs, she turned to me and said, “you know, I really like him.”
Charismatic? Gedge? The guy on stage who consistently sings about heartbreak, infidelity, and revenge? The one who responds to joyous (albeit drunken) cries of “come on, Gedgey” with, “Look, it’s either ‘come on, David’ or ‘come on, Mr. Gedge.’ You’re making me feel like I’m back in grade school” (which admittedly was said with good grace and humor)? Sure enough, despite all four band members generally keeping it tight and professional and disciplined, The Wedding Present proved to be more than just excellent as a live act, but also very likeable. It helped that, unlike many long-running bands, the group’s latest incarnation thrives on new-ish blood. Terry de Castro’s bass playing is the most prominent the band has ever had, and live, as on their latest album, El Rey, makes up an unexpectedly vital part of the equation. Graeme Ramsay’s drums shift easily from the thrashing pound needed to play George Best and Seamonsters-era songs to the more subtle stylings of the band’s last few albums, and Chris McConville is very nearly Gedge’s equal in the guitar stakes. And then there’s Gedge himself—the only man I’ve ever seen playing rock and roll live who wore a long-sleeved, quite warm looking shirt for the duration without appearing overheated—performing his own little repertoire of lyric-illustrating hand gestures and guitar god poses.
I was worried before I got to Lee’s that the band would either rely too much on their (admittedly) superb new album El Rey or else just do a sort of old-times revue, but they managed to strike a nearly perfect balance between the old and the new. For the first half of the set I actually felt that they were performing the new material better than the classic stuff. It was great to hear “Lovenest” but it just wasn’t quite as transcendently brutal as it should have been. Except for the opening “Kennedy” the older material was comfortable but not astounding, whereas the versions of new songs “Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk” and “Palisades” were eye-opening. And while the opening few songs felt like they were just warming up, from “Interstate 5” on (which appeared roughly three quarters of the way into the set) they really started firing on all pistons. And when “My Favorite Dress” smashed into existence the place went nuts.
As expected, people had been yelling for “Dalliance” all set, and Gedge consistently responded with a simple refusal to do requests (or, once, telling us that de Castro makes the set lists and she won’t let him break from them—“if it was up to me, you understand…”). Still, it felt a little inevitable when that opening guitar/bass interplay rolled out over the crowd. It was a great performance, but in my head I was still stubbornly thinking that the new stuff, as a whole, had gone over better. I was also a bit disappointed on a selfish level: I love “Dalliance”, of course, but I really really love “Dare”, the song that follows it on Seamonsters and now of course they weren’t going to play it.
Except, then, they did. I admit I completely geeked out at that point, jumping in the air, fist raised, screaming out “Yes!” And they played the best possible version of “Dare” I could have imagined. And then they ended the set with my favorite song from El Rey, the crushing “Boo Boo” and killed that one too. I admit that personal context and existing fandom is what made the end of this concert so special for me, but my less-involved friend seemed to think it was pretty great too, so I think it translates. I left heartily impressed with the band’s prowess, wishing that more long-running bands were as interested in keeping all of their recorded history in play in the live environment (at least potentially).
// Notes from the Road
"Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, brought her Freedom Highway tour to New York for a powerful show. The tour resumes next week and hits Newport Folk later this summer.READ the article