Monday, November 29, 2010

Suuns - The Silver Dollar Room - November 26, 2010

Suuns, basking in the red-hued glow of internet buzz. Photo by Colleen Hale-Hodgson.
It happened like this: Suuns played New York City's CMJ festival in October and managed to get a shout out on one of my favourite music programs, All Songs Considered. I dig this sound. I should remember to check this band out later. Then, a week or so later I spy a tweet from Daytrotter advertising their recent session with Suuns. Oh yes! I forgot to remember to check out this band! Here another opportunity. After being suitably impressed (again) by the sounds from their Daytrotter session I decide I must remember to see this group live sometime. Cut to Google Reader and Chromeowaves' RSS feed. There's a small footnote on a review of Gregory & The Hawk’s Leche that Suuns will be playing the Silver Dollar Room the upcoming Friday.. It's settled. The nail in the coffin comes later during a random visit to CBC Radio 3's website, where its online player opens to - what else - Sunns' "Arena". What is this (other than a verbose way to say that I saw Suuns this past Friday)? It's a look at how music aficionados discover new bands to pay attention to, and how buzz bands are born.

Show openers Tezeta and Little Girls are local and, at least in the case of Little Girls, have a strong following in many Toronto music circles. Little Girls went on second and were solid, but didn't really wow me like I would have liked. Tezeta, which came on first, was an interesting enough set to write a little more on.

Tezeta had problems from the start. Sole member Joseph Viktor Arthur Roth needs a serious injection of confidence juice, and I hope he gets it soon because from what little he did play was not as bad as he said it was. He started his set by mumbling something about how it wouldn't be very good, then played a nice, spacey sample riff piece called "Ties," with his swooning baritone voice that reminded me a bit of Beirut's Zach Condon. He then called upon a few members of Little Girls to play alongside, which was where things started to fall apart. After two songs he abruptly kicked the other players off the stage and said he wouldn't play any more. After several catcalls and shouts of bemused encouragement from the audience, he relented and started to play one last song, which he promptly abandoned again. Like I said, it's too bad because Roth has a nice voice, but probably isn't ready to share his music live.  

When Suuns took to the small Silver Dollar stage, however, there was no question of whether or not these guys had the confidence to hold the crowd. Suuns make dark electro-infused post-punk music. It's moody and precise, and the more time you spend with it, the more it grows on you. This trend of indie bands adding synth to the normal guitar/bass/drum setup is both good and bad; on the one hand you've got explorations in texture, and the combination of traditional melody constructs with drone or glitched-out beats allows for more complex emotional revelations. On the other hand you've got synth-as-filler bands (where you have the only girl in the band behind a tiny keyboard pushing keys but not really making any noise), or "bands" who show up at venues with a laptop and skinny jeans and not much else. As the night went on, Suuns exemplified the correct way to integrate synth, sound pedals, and other elecronic devices into an otherwise traditional mould - making it an integral part of their overall sound rather than a fun sidenote.

Ben Shemie's restrained vocals added tension to an already anxiety-ridden sound. Each song felt ready to burst into a rollicking rock jam, but rarely - if ever - unleashed the pent up rock trying to get out. That tension added to the moody atmosphere, but also contributed to the show eventually delvolving (evolving?) into a moshpit/dance party, which should say something about the Suuns' strength in rhythm (and will hopefully lead to Suuns dance remixes in the future). 

They didn't over-reach on the record, which would have meant creating music that they couldn't replicate live, and that may be what saved them from one of the most common pitfalls modern indie bands often fall prey to. So many bands simply do not have either the manpower or the musical dexterity to re-produce their ambitious recordings in a live setting. Based on this interview with NOW, this was intentional move on Suuns' part, in order to keep the live show strong. This was a good decision, and will allow for a more expanded sound on later records, when they can afford to bring in other musicians to play with what is already a very exciting material. 

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