August 20, 2009
Dave Bookman’s NU Music Showcase is a great way to spend a Tuesday night—free, with a range of genres and a gung-ho crowd, one couldn’t ask for more. On this particular night at the end of July, the crowds were abuzz over the more established Grates and the quickly rising up-and-comers Library Voices. Too Many Sisters and Songs from a Room were also holding fort.
Too Many Sisters started off the night, and though they didn’t quite suit the environment or the crowd at the Horseshoe Tavern, they were a pleasant, calm choice for an opening band–sweet, soothing music with a far more pronounced country twang when performing live. On CD, Too Many Sisters has more fullness and strength, but something of their pure, cleanly recorded sound was lost in the shadows of the Horseshoe. They made for good background music on this occasion, but that won’t stop me from listening to them voluntarily in the future. It just seems that their folky feel didn’t vibe with the crowd that showed up for the more charismatic, pop-ish music of Library Voices and the interactive high-pitched squealing of the Grates, and least of all the heavy metal riffs of Songs from a Room. Then again, all the bands differed so much from one another that we can’t categorize any of them.
Saskatchewan’s The Library Voices drew crowds from the recesses of the Horseshoe Tavern, and before the first song was halfway through, we were having trouble making our way to the front of the stage. The ten-piece troupe landed Nu Music nights two weeks in a row, so they’re definitely doing something right. Apparently the first show was not as packed, and I assume word traveled over the one week between shows, because people were obviously taking note of Library Voices this time.
Carefully measured or naturally in tune with each other, Library Voices easily wooed the audience at the Horseshoe with their well-rehearsed harmonies and camaraderie. The crowd continued to thicken and more toes were tapping along with their contagious beats as the set went along. They boast a rugged, country-style appearance that complemented their campfire-esque music. Straight up, it was as if Library Voices showed up simply to have a good time and throw a party with close friends. And, though their music may share the same saccharine coating of bands like Too Many Sisters and Belle and Sebastian, they’ve incorporated the sharper side of other large collectives like Arcade Fire and The Dears into their music through darkly underlined lyrics. Songs titled with references to literary célèbre, like Kundera and Vonnegut, betray Library Voices’ affinity for writing is closely aligned with their sentiments on singing. Live, Library Voices are far cooler than on their album, where singer Carl Johnson’s wail could be mistaken for that of any other whiny emo-voiced indie band. They truly let loose rock-and-roll style, but should try to take some of that rawness back to the studio. I can’t wait to catch them at the Virgin Festival later this summer.
The Grates followed Library Voices, pulling in a larger audience. They’ve got an established fanbase, having previously toured with Sleater Kinney, Arctic Monkeys and The Go! Team. This band once had me very charmed, with their song “Trampoline” playing on repeat on my computer as I prepped to go out. I have to say the shrill voice of lead singer Patience Hodgson made me cringe many times during this show, even amid the catchy instrumentals of her band mates. I’ve seen references to her voice being angelic, so perhaps this was a bad night–I tried to ignore it, but vocals are such an integral part of their music that I couldn’t help but hope for her to shut up. I know the Grates’ main selling points to audiences are their fast, punky guitar, vox and the perky personality of Hodgson. The character from The Grates that kept friends and I most curious and entranced was the quick-wristed, ever-amused and ebullient drummer Alana Skyring, lingering in the background. Hodgson went on to dance and prance, clearly showing a lot of presence, at one point hopping off the stage to bob on the shoulders of an audience member and sing. She reminds me of Gwen Stefani from her early No Doubt days, pulling hopping escapades along speaker-tops and making her antics just as important as her sound. Hodgson also twirled a ribbon around and danced onstage, but these distractions were not enough to detract me from the squeakiness of her singing.
By the end of their show, the crowds were dwindling and Toronto’s Songs from a Room were left with a bare dance floor. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to draw active listeners from the nearby tables full of people. Their music, harder and packed with more longwinded distortion, was not the sort one could dance to anyway. They used the vigor of Metallica, but lacked the precision and breadth of the band. It might take a little tweaking for Songs from a Room to develop a more defined sound.
For more information on Library Voices, check out: www.myspace.com/thelibraryvoices
For more information on the Grates, check out: www.myspace.com/thegrates
For more information on Songs From A Room, check out: www.myspace.com/fromtheroom
For more information on Too Many Sisters, check out: www.toomanysisters.com