Rock Plaza Central: 6 June 2009 - The Beat Kitchen, Chicago
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley
Though they are categorized by many as an indie rock band, Toronto’s Rock Plaza Central defy genres in many ways. The experience of seeing the band play live ranges from religious (especially during songs such as “My Children, Be Joyful”) to intense and experimental (the group’s 2006 Are We Not Horses was a concept album about robotic horses with feelings). Their music also contains tinges of country with fiddle, mandolin, and banjo all making appearances, marking their live sets and recorded material as far from simple, straight ahead rock music.
After an interim that felt longer than it actually was -- mainly because many have been anxiously anticipating the band’s creative lyrics and diverse musical accompaniment -- Rock Plaza Central are back. Their newest effort ...At the Moment of Our Most Needing formed the backbone of this hour-long set, as the new songs were interspersed with tunes from their previous two records. And though the exploration of concepts is very different from release to release, there was still a tying sense of cohesiveness and tone throughout.
Touring this time around as a five piece, Rock Plaza Central are one of those bands that makes full use of each band member to create a rich palette with the absence of any musical dead space. Many of the songs throughout their albums contain a great sense of choral unity, where all band members at various points sing the main idea of the song, but violin and trumpet were equally prominent during this set. Even the new songs were incredibly tight with frontman Chris Eaton, whose writing is not limited to lyrics but also includes two novels, leading the way with a voice that sometimes sounded ripe with anguish.
Highlights of their set included new songs like "(Don't You Believe the Words of) Handsome Men”, which begins with a warning as foreboding trumpet backs the song’s title echoed repetitively throughout the song as band members join in to increase the intensity. In contrast, their new song “Oh I Can” was more of a hopeful refrain of human possibilities, while “Holy Rider” was a pivotal fast paced climax. Going as far back as 2003’s The World Was Hell to Us, they even played the fantastic “The Things That Bind You”. Stellar tracks played from Are We Not Horses included “Fifteen Hands”, “When We Go, How We Go”, and “How Shall I To Heaven Aspire?” Certainly seeing them on this tour is not to be missed by any fan of their previous albums, their most recent album, or -- as many are -- a devotee of their whole back catalog.