Wednesday, March 30, 2011

British Sea Power, A Classic Education @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (March 24, 2011)

  British Sea Power: photo by Michael Ligon

Not counting Canadian Musicfest, last week's British Sea Power show at Lee's Palace was just my second real concert of the year. Off to a slow start you might say, but quality over quantity, my friends. The last time British Sea Power played Toronto was in May 2008 when they played Lee's Palace in celebration of their then-new disc Do You Like Rock Music? and in the same fashion the band were again back in Toronto to promote their new record Valhalla Dancehall.

Openers for the night were a band from Bologna, Italy called A Classic Education. This was a band I'd seen briefly during CMJ in New York City this past October but even given my brief encouter with the band I'd already been impressed with the band's music. It was a real treat to see the band live again given how much I already liked them. A random patron shouted out "Welcome back to Canada" alluding to the fact that the band's vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Jonathan Clancy is from here - in fact, Clancy revealed this was their first time playing in Toronto, and he also mentioned that he used to go to school at a school on Lawrence Ave. The 5-member lineup in addition to Clancy on vocals/guitar included a girl on keyboards, and gentlemen on lead guitar, bass and drums. Given Clancy's Canadian roots, there is indeed something distinctly European about the band's approach to pop music - the band do possess a certain level of pop sophistication that I just don't hear in most North American indie acts. Clancy's swooning vocals and the band's lead guitarist melodic guitar lines are by far the best elements of the band's sound, but the songs themselves are indeed wonderfully crafted pop tunes, drenched in a bit of reverb and sounding every bit as classic as the word classic in their band name alludes to. Songs such as the summery "Gone To Sea" and especially "What My Life Could Have Been" are some of the most fantastic pop songs I've heard in recent memory, and on that alone I recommend them highly. To show a raunchier more playful side, the band also played a cover(L'il Red Riding Hood?) of a song by 1960's Tex-Mex rock 'n' roll band Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Delightful.

As with every other visit to Toronto by British Sea Power, introducing them to the audience was Toronto resident, British ex-pat, and the terminably ageless Kayvon who in his hyper-kinetic talk rambling non-sensically, integrating references to the band's albums then introducing the band on to the stage. For this show, the band was less chaotic and whimiscal overall than on previous visits, but the band was as musically as satisfying as ever through a main set and even breaking tradition with no encore and playing not one, but two encores. Even with a new album to promote, there was quite an equitable representation of all the band's four albums (Valhalla Dancehall, Do You Like Rock Music?, Open Season, The Decline of British Sea Power) and also a smattering of songs from some of their EP's. For a Thursday night it was a healthy crowd, but given that Lee's Palace has been their resident venue every time they've come to Toronto, and that this show wasn't sold out, one wonders what's preventing them from reaching the next level. Musically their urgent, slightly orchestral pop-rock is as exhilirating as ever, and while some of the band's earlier material is a bit more eccentric, much of their more recent material is exciting yet accessible.

Breaking the tradition of no encores, the band played not one but two encores, the first encore including their stupendous single "Waving Flags" and the instrumental interlude "The Great Skua", plus a few others and then coming back surprisingly on the enthusiastic prompting of our host Kayvon to play the eccentric, garage-rock of "Apologies To Insect Life". During this last song lead singer Yan had picked up Kayvon and plopped him onto his shoulders for most of the song before dumping him into the front rows of the crowd on the floor. At this point even, other Wilkinson brother Hamilton (who Yan had mentioned had lost his voice) was even making attempts to do some back-up vocals. Multri-instrumentalist Phil Sumner was quietly impressive throughout the night playing a range of instruments including guitar, horns and keyboards while, drummer Wood and violinist Abi Fry provided consistently augmentation to the band's sound. Guitarist Hamilton was perhaps the most energetic onstage with his guitar playing and at the conclusion of the second encore, after the rest of the band left, fell over into the audience for a bit of body surfing. It was a great show overall that will hopefully increase the client's fanbase in Toronto and if that means playing a bigger venue, I will totally be okay with that. Really.

Photos: British Sea Power, A Classic Education @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (March 24, 2011)
MySpace: A Classic Education
MySpace: British Sea Power

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