Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Kids Are Alright

  • concert review: Fembots / Barmitzvah Brothers @ Harbourfront (Toronto, Ontario), part of the Gobsmacked festival, Saturday August 28, 2004

    Fembots @ Harbourfront (Toronto, Ontario), part of the Gobsmacked festival, Saturday August 28, 2004: photo by Mike LigonSaturday afternoon at Harbourfront's Gobsmacked festival was sparsely attended which gave me a great opportunity to grab a seat right up close for the two bands playing that afternoon. Sparse attendance aside, there was an enthusiastic crowd that came out that afternoon, an interesting mix of indie hipsters, tourists, passerbys and music fans. Toronto's Fembots came on at 2 pm. I had first seen the Fembots open for Sarah Harmer during North By Northeast this year and I was mightily impressed by their brooding alt-country soundscapes which combined traditional and modern elements. Although the giddiness of seeing Sarah Harmer live for the first time several months ago overshadowed my appreciation of the Fembots at the time. This time at Harbourfront, the Fembots had my undivided attention and they did not disappoint me. Their music is laid on a foundation of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, violin, banjo, and vocals. Thrown into the fold are some interesting programmed beats and sampled sounds as well as some non-traditional musical instrumentation played by a guest of the band with such diverse objects as a wood saw, a sheet of aluminum metal, and water-filled wine glasses. Julie Tepper contributed some lovely violin throughout most of the set, and occassionally put down the violin to play some guitar. For the most part, the music maintained a slow brooding rustic quality, offset with flourishes of Belle-and-Sebastian-like violin, programmed drum beats and sound effects and some Neil-Young-influenced guitar licks. On one tune, the band ventured into spy-instrumental territory. When the band played their 'hit'[wish I knew the name of the song], and a member of the band encouraged the audience to dance, I found the song so irresistably infectious that I couldn't stop smiling or tapping my feet until the song ended; the song itself had a simple but infectious tune with a back-porch, "Honky Tonk Woman" quality to it. Wilco provide a great comparison to The Fembots' sound. Whereas Wilco have taken a pop-experimentalist approach to its music over the last several albums and have all but lost their country sound, the Fembots have combined both those elements into a mix that is thoroughly natural sounding without an ounce of irony. The calibre of Toronto bands continues to impress me and Fembots rank up there with the best of them.

    Jenny Mitchell & John Jemeson Merritt of Barmitzvah Brothers @ Harbourfront (Toronto, Ontario), part of the Gobsmacked festival, Saturday August 28, 2004: photo by Mike LigonBarmitzvah Brothers were up next after a brief intermission. Without ever hearing a note of their music, but having read several good things about them, I had already made up in my mind that the Barmitzvah Brothers would be something special. I was not disappointed. Firstly, there were no brothers in the band and apparently no one in the band is Jewish. It's difficult to describe their music but my best description of the their music is that it's the indiepop, only slightly less offbeat cousin to They Might Be Giants. There's a charming, ramshackle, almost amateur quality to their music, like a band still learning to play their instruments, but having a ball while they're at it. The core of the group is Jenny Mitchell(vocals/instruments), Geordie Gordon(guitar/other instruments), and Little John Jemeson Merritt(drums), aged 19, 17, and 16, respectively[at least as of December 2003]. The band that day also included another young female on backup vocals/keyboards as well as an older guy with glasses on guitar who by my guess was maybe in his late twenties/early thirties. The music consists of some of the most delicious pop melodies, since, well, ever. For a band this young, they are surprisinly competent playing a wide variety of musical instruments, including keyboards, drums, guitar, banjo, trombone, and trumpet. It's a rare occasion when a band this young can impress me with their calibre of songs. Ben Lee[remember "Pop Queen" and "Away With The Pixies"], more recently Nellie Mckay and Smoosh, and now Barmitzvah Brothers. It's inevitable that the band will only become better musicians and better vocalists with time, although part of me hopes that their music does not lose that ramshackle quality that I enjoyed so much. ...I guess it's true what people say; it's always painful seeing you're kids grow up. ;-)

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