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Concert Review: Slowdive & Japanese Breakfast @ Olympia

Slowdive 1

It had been a long week, grey and rainy. I’d come down with a cold on Tuesday and spent the following 72 hours in a clogged funk. How providential, then, for the clouds to part late Saturday afternoon, low sun bursting through to the wet and shining city, hours before Slowdive took the stage at Olympia. Bolstered by the promising weather, I popped my meds and headed down to the show.

Japanese Breakfast kicked things off, the room already nearing capacity. The Brooklyn quartet lined the front of the stage and dutifully powered through their upbeat indie rock setlist, frontwoman Michelle Zauner’s peppy banter linking one song to the next. They seemed a little stiff, with their songs failing to really pop and fill the room. It was difficult to determine whether the fault lied with the arrangement and instrumentation or with the venue’s sound techs: guitar and bass blurred together and backup vocals remained buried in the mix. In the end Michelle’s powerful vocals stood out as the only clearly distinguishable element, and it felt more like we were hearing the idea of the songs than the complete package. Despite these sound issues the audience was forgiving, sending the band off with a roar as they closed with their strongest number, the driving “Machinist.”

After a wait filled with steadily rising hype and a strikingly good playlist (krautrock, Abba, and a Rihanna cover), the lights dimmed. The immediately familiar, comforting swells of Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day” filled the room and Slowdive ambled onstage, greeted us politely, and began.

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At first, I was concerned. The opening run of songs seemed initially to be suffering from the same issues as the previous set: things felt a little muddy and underwhelming. Easing us in with a couple new songs and a few cuts off their older but lesser-known albums, the anticipation continued to swell, as if they hadn’t yet fully arrived.

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Twenty minutes in, they dropped “Machine Gun” and everything locked into place. The difference was immediate. My body shook with peals of thundering guitar and pounding drums as psychedelic vistas opened up behind my closed eyelids, spurred by the strobing screensaver visuals onstage. The song  hit harder, much heavier than the ones before. Maybe it was the crowd responding to an old favourite, maybe the techs finally nailed the mix, maybe the song was just written that way; whatever the case, from that point forward, they were in their groove.

The remainder of the set proved to be a pleasant exercise in dynamics. All the older tracks, such as “Alison” and the outstanding “When the Sun Hits,” served as the anchors, the ballast around which we could comfortably tether. Peppered between, the newer tracks all seemed lighter by comparison, more spacious and synth-heavy, marking an interesting new direction from more mature songwriters. The oscillation between gritty ’90s shoegaze and polished contemporary alt-rock was pleasant, and – with the aid of a truly outstanding light show – hypnotic. When the encore finished and the lights came on, I wandered out, dazed, with a newfound respect for an iconic group that has flourished for decades and turned out to be a lot more versatile than I once assumed.

 

Concert Review: Porches, Japanese Breakfast, and Rivergazer @ Bar le Ritz PDB

porches

This summer, I became acquainted with the music of Porches in a big way. Their most recent album, Pool, came into my life at a time when I really needed some new stuff to listen to, and ever since,  I’ve had Porches’ music on pretty much constant repeat. On Monday, October 3rd, I got the chance to see them play alongside Rivergazer and Japanese Breakfast at Bar Le Ritz PDB, a show that sold out early on in the night and did not disappoint.

Rivergazer kicked the show off at 9:30 – though usually a trio, they performed as a duo with synth and bass fronted by Kevin Farrant, the guitarist from Porches. Rivergazer’s music is mostly synth-heavy love ballads accented with extreme auto-tuned vocals, with the members trading off as lead vocalist accompanied by tight backing harmonies from the other. As someone in the crowd described, they sound “kind of like a sad Porches”, in terms of the kind of heavy emotional stuff found in their lyrics, especially in songs like “Only 4 U”. They were a great opener in terms of setting the mood as a fun-but-not-over-the-top night.

The next group, Japanese Breakfast, is a four-piece rock group from Philadelphia fronted by high-energy vocalist/guitarist, Michelle Zauner. Their vibe was a lot different than the two other bands, playing more straight-up fun rock with an non-self-conscious attitude towards enjoying themselves on stage. I found their music to be a little one-dimensional, and the mixing of the band made it so everything blended together into a muddled wall of sound. Zauner, though, was a powerful presence, driving the show forward despite poor sound quality.

Finally, Porches took the stage around 11:15, and played a tighter set than I’ve seen in a long time. Admittedly, the songs weren’t new to the band – their latest release, Pool (not including the EP, Water), came out in February, so they’ve had plenty of time to get the material down to a science. However, the performance still felt fresh, and the whole crowd seemed to get swept up in the clean grooves they were laying down. Aaron Maine, the band’s frontman, interacted with the audience a little between numbers, mostly to deadpan sarcastically or comment on how much he liked the venue. He seemed to really like Bar Le Ritz. A lot.

Towards the end of the set, the band had to drastically lower their volume due to police complaints, but the turn of events played almost to Porches’ favour. The set ended with two solo numbers by Maine, one being the classic “Xanny Bar”, a melancholy tune he often ends shows with. The other was a new song, which he introduced by saying he’d never played it live before and he was pretty nervous about it. By the end of the tune, the whole audience was singing along.

Loitering outside the venue after the show, the general sentiment was the same: Wow. Porches put on a show that was, on the one hand, entertaining and quirky, with quips from Maine in between songs and coordinated dance moves within the band. On the other hand, some moments were incredibly emotive, particularly in those quiet moments with just Aaron Maine on stage and a whole crowd of fans eating it all up. Overall, an amazing show from a band that came into my life far, far too recently.

– Review by Nora Duffy