Monday, January 31, 2011

The Besnard Lakes @ Lee's Palace, January 29, 2011

The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. Photos by Colleen Hale-Hodgson.

The Besnard Lakes third album, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, is cited as one of the best albums of 2010 by notable music sites and magazines like and MOJO. Since their inception in 2003, they've gained a devoted following and racked up a couple of Polaris Prize nominations, all while sticking to an surprisingly fresh atmospheric prog-rock formula (which I thought was buried at some point during the early '80s). They were at Lee's Palace this past Saturday, along with a sold-out crowd and two hot supporting acts, Valleys and Suuns. 

Sadly, I missed all but the last song from Montreal-based openers Valleys, but judging by the way they were taking turns to pound on that drum of theirs, I would have really liked them. However, Suuns was up next and they had certainly upped their game since I saw them last November. Their set was tighter, with a better handle on the the weird, slow-burning electronic glitch freak-outs that has given their debut, Zeroes QC, so much attention. (Fun fact: The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek actually recorded and mixed Zeroes QC at his Montreal studio, Breakglass, back in January, 2010).

Ben Shemie of Suuns.

While lead singer Ben Shemie wasn't clutching a guitar like it was a surly cat getting its nails clipped, he was performing Ian Curtis-esque hand contortions and hissing mumbled lyrics into his microphone. Synth, bass, and keyboard player Max Henry was immersed, open-mouthed, into the knobs/keys/switches he was finger-dancing with, while Liam O'Neill and Joseph Yarmush kept the beats and guitar in a constant ebb and flow of suspense and release. There was a kinetic energy running through their set, which suits their moody elecro-post-punk songs very well, but apparently wasn't enough for Lasek who, just before their last song, leaned through a window that looks out onto the Lee's stage and used his best Statler and Waldorf impression to heckle the band.

Husband and wife duo Lasek and Olga Goreas co-front The Besnard Lakes with guitarist Richard White and drummer Kevin Laing rounding out the team. While the set-up is pretty basic (two guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional keyboard) the sounds they create fill a vast expanse. Their neo-prog-rock aesthetic can sometimes bring to mind the cheesy Stonehenge theatrics of a Spinal Tap variety, but the pure skill exhibited in their music tends to overshadow that aspect.

Toronto was their first and last stop on the tour supporting 2010's The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night. They seemed a bit tired (it didn't help that Lasek was suffering from a bad cold and too much Aleve), but they still put a lot of energy into their performance.

It's great seeing full-on rock bands like this one. It's not something I usually go for, but I was impressed with their album and wanted to give them a shot. The stage set-up wasn't anything special (just a set of strobe lights and copious amounts of fog), but the huge waves of sound the group produced pointed to my ticket and said, "This is why you're not missing that $15." Aiding the wall-of-sound were some impressive instruments and toys - not one but two 12-string guitars, a truly massive bass guitar, and an ebow, which featured heavily on a couple of choice tracks.

While I love the wall-of-sound aspect of The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, I love the harmonies even more. They play up this trait in this album more than their previous ones, making the gloomy atmospherics more accisible to melody-lovers. However, while on the album you can have the vocals mixed in perfectly with your wailing guitar and smashing drums, things aren't always as smooth live. For the most part, all the vocals were clear (Lasek's voice, in particular, features a perfect Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame-worthy falsetto), but some of the nicer harmonies on the album lacked coherence when pitted against the live jumble of shrieks and drones, as well as some unforgiving acoustics. 

This was a fun, brass-tacks sort of performance that, aside from a cold and some bass drum issues, went pretty smoothly. The crowd wasn't as into it as I think they should have been (I was at the front and it was pretty loose up there for a rock concert), but were still vocal in appreciating the band's efforts (repeated calls to play "For Agent 13" off of The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse sadly went unheeded).

After a well-deserved break, The Besnard Lakes will be taking their show on the road again for a short tour in Australia, while Suuns is heading to Europe and Valleys will be heading to SXSW in March. Check out The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night stunner "Albatross" below.

EDIT: I've added some additional photographs after the jump in case you're interested.


The Besnard Lakes

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