Long before TV on the Radio multi-instrumentalist David Andrew Sitek took the stage shouting, "It's fucking hot in here�like I'm in someone's basement... I like it," you had to adjust to one of Montreal's newest venues. Slapped together almost randomly it seems, El Salon's entire feel comes across as some overzealous indie scenester's wet dream. Equipped with an island flared bar, recreation room linoleum floors and folding chairs, you can't help mouth, or at least consider the words "high school talent show."
This setting does have benefits, though. For one thing, any and all DYI ethos and bravado is acutely felt and displayed, from Godspeed member and club owner Mauro Pezzente handing out water bottles to the Christmas decorations spelling out the venue's name in bright red letters. Willingly then, or maybe by accidental post-rock association comes a definite sense of purpose and community, or something like that, as it's hard to think straight when there is little air and you're sweating profusely with some stranger's hand on unavoidably brushing your ass.
Regardless, the setting creates a sort of non-expectation that only benefits the acts forthcoming. And this is a feeling only accented watching Alexis O'Hara's mildly deranged if not forced opening set. Hers is an act that finds the borders between annoyance and entertainment, of course, I might be in the minority saying so, as in a venue like El Salon, most indie kids will only fawn at someone standing behind an array of effects pedals singing a chorus of "free your ass!."
Amidst this, and with the multi-genre beauty of TV on the Radio following them, you would be forgiven for overlooking second act Controller.Controller. It doesn't help that the mere look of them did little to inspire confidence, as maybe in somewhere like El Salon you seek authenticity out, smelling artifice from a mile off. And this isn't to say they look bad, only somewhat forced, like some sort of rock band starter kit: a touch punk, a dab nerd rock and a flare for new wave, oh and a bassist that looks like Casey Affleck; to say nothing of a muscular drummer wearing leather gloves -- a look that would fit in among band members of the Cult or an Ozzy backing band. In awe, one person behind me was overheard saying, "these people look like members of every band on the planet."
Still, in the battle for live act effectiveness, image can work for you or counter, and sounding like Hot Hot Heat mainlining Fugazi with a female singer, Controller.Controller happily allow you to forget they look like a Canadian Idol indie band. Indeed Paper Bag Record's latest took control of the stage within minutes with a sweaty, meaty attack and by playing all of their first official release, History. Hard enough to rouse the crowd, many of whom were seated on the floor at set's beginning, the Toronto band were still playful enough to secure much of "TV's" crowd. This a playfulness emanating from the soft touch of stage presence provided by singer Nirmala Basnayake, as despite some sound difficulties that often buried her voice in the mix, her mere presence seemed like a ray of light among her band's aural intensity�this despite her admitted stage fright. Nevertheless, and despite her come hither eyes and overall alluring look, she was ultimately outshined by Controller.Controller's real appeal: an inspired and ultimately memorable dual guitar attack from guitarists Colwyn Llewllyn and Scott Kaija, one that is both equal measures piercing and inventive. This is something even Hot Hot Heat lack, an undercurrent of real forceful rock over the bedding of danceable music.
Later and maybe in response to the sheer force of Controller's set, TV on the Radio appeared with a beefed up stage presence (a live drummer as well as a serious looking bass player that never once turned to face the crowd) and hammered the crowd with faster and overall louder renditions of much of their latest release. And though initially it appeared that the Brooklynites would blow their openers out of the building (with "Staring at the Sun" especially inspired), technical difficulties in the form of two broken strings cut the band's momentum, causing a lengthy delay saved only by the band's ability to improvise and a Controller.Controller guitar offered up to the stage in aide.
In the grand scheme of things it was a small gesture really, but that they might be looked to for help seemed right; as even though after a time much of Controller's output began to sound similar (with at least two bass lines sounding like identical repeats), they nevertheless breath a sort of potential that's simple, real and hard to overlook, regardless of its setting.
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