06 August, 2008

Review: Wolf Parade live at The Paradise, 02/08/08

Gigs in the US are different to Irish gigs in subtle but important ways. First of all tickets are so much cheaper it almost makes the mind boggle; but you can never expect to get a ticket at face value. Ireland hasn't seen touts like the American touts, and let's hope it never does. It's not unusual to see $20 tickets going on sale for $60 on average - which still, you may notice, makes it cheaper than most Irish gigs. The second, of course is security: even in pub venues, there are at least two bouncers (with a subtle aura that makes you think they moonlight as brick walls) checking ID at the door, plus the bulky security men inside the venue (who can make their way through a crowd with wraith-like subtlety and speed that is quite frankly terrifying). Third is merchandise, strategically placed so that you have to almost fight your way through it to the venue itself. Lastly, and most importantly, is the crowd: American audiences (from what this reviewer has experienced thus far) are considerably less likely to be drunk, and considerably more likely to quietly enjoy and appreciate the show, with a moderate amount of dancing at best, and go home to bed nice and early. Anything that comes close to moshing, or even excessive movement is not tolerated. How much of this attitudal difference is related to the second difference as mentioned above can only be guessed at... Whether this is a difference you can warm to depends, naturally enough, on the artist or situation, but also on what kind of concert-goer you are. In other words, it depends on whether you go to see and appreciate what's going on on-stage, or go for the vibe, the fun, the communal headbop. Either way, it suited Wolf Parade.

(To continue with this comparison game, the Irish equivalent of The Paradise venue in Allston is most likely a cross between The Button Factory and a theatre venue like The Olympia, but with a slightly higher capacity than the first and darker than the latter. It also has a considerably better sound system than most similar-sized Irish venues, or for that matter some of the bigger venues.)

Supporting act Wintersleep, got off to a decent start with a song that will in time no doubt be known as their opus. Changing time signatures, juxtaposing quiet and loud, introducing increasingly intricate patterns and combinations...they had all the trademarks of a possible American answer to Ireland's proliferation of instrumental rock bands (no, I'm not letting this comparison angle go), yet left you with a nagging feeling that there was something missing, the only solution to which would be vocals. Yet when the vocals made their entry, it was difficult not to feel it was better incomplete. From there on in it was downhill: while their energetic performance was doubtless technically excellent, exhibiting mastery of musical devices and instruments that you would expect, they also proved themselves masters of formulae and repetition by using a similar if not identical backing vocal line for every song.

Wolf Parade's set, on the other hand, was a riot of energy, unique sounds, dense soundwalls and personality. Having just released the follow-up to the clever and brilliant Apologies to the Queen Mary, the band were not afraid to throw all they had into their show. It was a collection of subtle contrasts, not least between how they looked and how they sounded: although they look like a loose-banded disparate collection of college indie-rockers, hippy alternative-junkies and dreamy stoners, their sound was tight and dense, even sophisticated, and relentlessly driven forward by some invisible but yet palpable kind of inner anger or power. This is not to say they seem bitter, as do so many less interesting groups; in fact, all of Wolf Parade's tracks show a depth, musically and otherwise, that is lacking in many such groups. Drawing as they do on both folk music (listen to singer/guitarist Dan Boekner's not dissimilar and idiosyncratic Handsome Furs side-project) as well as the Canadian artists that have paved their way, Wolf Parade still manage to push and drag their ideas along a slightly different path. Though this path appears to be darkening as they go, it is by now becoming characterised by stop-start changing tempos, sound manipulation, melodic and harmonic ingenuity and ambiguity in equal measures. The end result was a gig that makes your head swirl just a little.