As many people are aware, I’m a huge Wolf Parade fan. I’m also a huge fan of all bands that contain Wolf Parade members; Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake- every year another one seems to pop up, and I inevitably love it. When I found out Wolf Parade singer Dan Boeckner was putting out an album with his then-fiancé (now wife) Alexi Perry under the name Handsome Furs, I knew I was going to like it too, and I was right; it’s a darker, more minimal side to Dan, and it suits his voice well. I talk a lot about my love for fellow Wolf Parade singer Spencer Krug’s voice, but Dan’s has many endearing qualities of its own; it’s the weathered, scratchy, two-pack-a-day type of voice that makes you feel like he’s been through some hard times and lived to tell (sing?) about it.
Download: Handsome Furs - "What We Had"
Joining the Furs was fellow Montreal-natives, the Besnard Lakes, whose recent shoegaze-y album, Are the Dark Horse, has also been a mainstay on my iPod. Though both bands have garnered recent buzz (and Pitchfork recommendations), I was pleasantly surprised to see that the show was not sold out, or even close to capacity. It might have had to do with the fact that they had a two-night stand at Schubas, or the fact that that two-night stand was unfortunately situated on a Monday and Tuesday.
Handsome Furs were up first, with Dan on the guitar and vocals and Alexi working the electronics. Dan announced to the crowd that this was pretty much their honeymoon (doesn’t get more rock than spending your honeymoon on tour through the Midwest), then launched into Plague Park’s first track, “What We Had.” Though visually there wasn’t a lot of action on the stage due to the general lack of instruments, Dan’s stage presence alone is pretty electrifying, and the chemistry between him and his wife was definitely palpable (not surprising, considering the whole newlywed thing). As Dan thrashed around the stage with his guitar, Alexi just sort of chilled back and watched him, pressing buttons, twisting knobs and stomping her foot to the beat. Some critics have said that their songs feel incomplete, but I personally enjoy the stripped down nature of their music; I think Dan’s voice is strong enough to carry the songs on their own.
As the Besnard Lakes began setting up (this band also featuring a married couple, guitarist/singer Jace Lasek and bassist/singer Olga Goreas), I realized I had never seen so many pedals on a stage at one time; with three guitarists and a sound built on distorted guitar, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The band kicked off with one of my favorite songs, “Ride the Rails,” and it was fairly amusing watching the guitarists do some complicated hopping in order to turn several pedals on and off at the same time. Meanwhile, their sound made me think they would be the type of band that just played their songs with little between-song banter, but this proved to not be the case, breaking up the flow of their music a bit. After Olga broke a string mid-song, they spent some time mulling over baseball with the crowd while Jace told amusing stories about the general crappiness of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, until Olga had to remind them that her string had actually been fixed for a few minutes so they could start playing again. Then later, just as I was getting entranced into an older song of theirs I was unfamiliar with, they broke out . . . the fog machine. Everyone around me sort of looked a little shocked, and after the song ended, Jace just sort of looked out at the crowd with a smirk and a look on his face that said, “Uh, yeah, we just did that.” The fog came out again a couple more times during the show, and probably would have made for a cooler effect if we were in a club larger than Schubas.
Overall, the band’s sound was strong, but not as strong as I would have initially expected judging from the set up; three guitars should pack a big punch. Luckily, they found their stride later in the set; everything really came together for set closer “And You Lied to Me”- their sound was sharp, the harmonies spot on, the interplay between the slower, softer verses and the big, loud chorus worked nicely, and there were some crazy guitar solos going on beneath all the fuzz.
I left not knowing if they played an encore, but I was tired and they’d already played all the songs I wanted to hear (plus I needed to get home to finish reading the new Harry Potter, which I will not deny was a distraction to my focusing properly on the music at times). Still, Harry Potter thoughts aside, it was a great night of quality Canadian music, and I look forward to seeing what other great side projects those crazy Wolf Parade guys can send my way next.