concert review: Dean & Britta, Keren Ann @ The Mod Club (Toronto, Ontario), February 9, 2008
I've been quite lax with reviewing concerts lately and it's not because I haven't enjoyed the odd show I've gone to. That's the case with the Dean and Britta/Keren Ann show I caught over the weekend at The Mod Club and enjoyed a lot. Most of what could have been said about the show's already been said by Chromewaves, It's Not The Band I Hate..., and Zoilus but I could throw in my 2 cents also. I'd caught Keren Ann live twice before but this time rather than performing solely acoustic and or solo, she performed with a band(drummer and guitarist/bassist). Balancing the folkiness of her acoustic work with the fleshed out band sound of her more uptempo numbers made for an engaging set overall. It seems that with each return to Toronto the vibe of her set keeps on improving - I couldn't speak for her show at the Rivoli last year which I didn't make it to but I will acknowledge that the cautious approach and awkward banter of her show at The Drake in December 2004 was replaced with an improved confidence for her solo acoustic set at the Horseshoe in March 2005(opening for A Girl Called Eddy) and then this most recent set was the best one yet. The trio configuration was a big help perhaps, keeping things intimate but with the extra band members at hand to add a little oomph when needed. Her guitarist in particular provided most of that added oomph with his textured guitar arrangements and background vocals.
When Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard put to rest the GBV moniker, but continued to record under his own name, it wasn't so much an ending as a new beginning. In all manner of speaking, Robert Pollard was GBV and vice versa. In a similar sense, Luna's disbanding was a short-lived mourning as Dean Wareham(who sonically as well as lyrically was the most identifiable with Luna) continued to record with his girlfriend Britta Phillips under the moniker Dean & Britta. Two albums in to their career as Dean & Britta, first with 2003's "L'Aventura", then last year's "Back Numbers", they sonically resemble Luna's Velvet-y pop songs but add more sophisticated musical influences to the mix like Lee Hazelwood(a touch that's most obvious with male/female vocals, resembling the Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra collaborations of the 60's). I'd seen Luna live only once - in fact it was their farewell show at Lee's Palace in 2004. At the time Britta was performing with them. I'd never noticed it back then and maybe it was more identifiable during Dean & Britta's set this past Saturday but Britta is hardly sonic wallpaper. Audible fully realized bass guitar arrangements combined with her sweet vocals displayed a versality I never realized before. Further, while Britta's vocals were mostly expressed in sweet, tender tones she could also make her vocals soar like on "You Turned My Head Around". The most enjoyable element of Dean this time was how much more engaging(relatively) he was with the audience, even if it meant expressing that he didn't like the film "Juno". Such a diss was meant as light-hearted banter at best, and it did get a chuckle out of more than a few people. Musically, Dean, Britta and the rest of the band(keyboardist & drummer) ran it pretty tight letting the melodies speak for themselves. While they didn't fulfill the shout-out request for "Anesthesia" they did turn in an intoxicating performance of "Tiger Lily" during the encore, and I'm sure that one Francophone audience member who kept on complimenting them en francais was delighted when they ended off the night/encore with their cover of Gainsbourg/Bardot classic "Bonnie and Clyde".
Check out some of my photos from the show.
MySpace: Dean & Britta
MySpace: Keren Ann