Montreal’s premier dark horses unleash their polyphonic symphonies on an unsuspecting Liverpool before ducking out of a night on the tiles opting for a hot toddy in the Holiday Inn…
Tonight was a learning experience.
Among other items on our drunken rampage in the sweaty climes of Liverpool we learnt:
I) Getting hammered the night before you’re due to work on a Champions League final supplement isn’t a great idea.
II) That Godspeed You! Black Emperor are over. So for those of you hanging on in there for the reunion tour – get over it. One slice of positive news however, is provided by charming Besnard’s drummer Kevin Laing, who tells us that Efrim and co.’s new sound is guitar heavy and rich in riffs. And is so good he stops playing when they’re around as ‘they’re that good.’
III) Montreal is, if you didn’t realise already, hot band central.
IV) Besnard Lakes maybe the self-proclaimed dark horses of this Montreal musical love-in, but they certainly shouldn’t be.
V) Like all people who know their stuff, chief Besnard, Jace Lasek is a huge Prince fan, he has the tattoo to prove it. His top three tracks are:
a) Rock Hard In A Funky Place
b) I Wonder U
c) Baby I’m A Star
VI) And, no matter no how hard you twist Jace and his merry band’s many tentacles, the Besnard’s won’t join you for a pint in Lago.
Further noteworthy musical lessons were provided by support acts CharliesHero and Land of Talk.
The former a sprightly group of Wigan/Prestoners who despite their tender ages excel in Explosions in the Sky-esque instrumentals, and the latter ramp proceedings up a notch as Elizabeth Powell mixes bluesy PJ Harvey angst with Neil Young-like axe battering while pulling off some incredible involuntary leg spasms.
The two contrast remarkably, but set up a wondrous night of surprises.
Something we did already know prior to tonight’s half-full Barfly extravaganza, is that The Besnard Lakes are one of 2007’s great new finds. And as if to reaffirm the point, tonight it shows.
Showcasing all but one track from their masterful second long-player The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse (a reference to their supposed underdogs status in their native Montreal), they belie the fact there’s merely six of them onstage as, like on record, they’re positively massive.
Such is their sparse touring party, its a real triumph that they replicate, and indeed top, the vast orchestration and minute attention to detail (typically provided on record by standards of the Canadian glitterati, Dears, Stars, Godspeed etc) which underpins the LP laid down at Jace’s Breakglass Studios.
Much of this is owed to husband and wife combo Lasek and Olga Goreas (both providing extraordinary vocal harmonies) and keyboardist/classical composer Nicole LizÃÂ©e who maps out the swathes of strings present on Are The Dark Horse using her modest Roland synthesizer.
Ride The Rails kick starts proceedings with its bleak, mournful strings before taking off into their characteristic Beach Boy harmonies amidst layers of guitar, plucked violins and brass.
In the live arena Lasek’s vocals truly shine. Resembling a just slightly cooler Napolean Dynamite, with his flash of blond pom-pom hair, outsized glasses and infectious cackling laugh, he’s great company and an even finer frontman. At ease to take a back seat and let his gang dictate proceedings before unleashing a falsetto of primal magnitude you’re staggered from whence it came.
Disaster captures their essence perfectly. With its unsettling seasick sway and haunting imagery (‘You’re not at home, You’re there alone so I’ve come to capture devices for spies with vices’) it’d be terrifying were it not for the Lasek-led choral beauty.
The maddening aspect, perhaps bound by the mere fact that they’re Canadians and from Montreal, of the press (all of which were unanimous in their acclaim) I read prior to their Barfly show, was that they were inherently rooted in the post-rock brand – and while this was all well and good, they were hardly had anything new to offer. What nonsense.
Take Because Tonight, sure it has a lumbering Do Make Say Think introductory segment, but as the violins rake, twin guitar spears of Lasek and Steve Raegele pierce and all six members belt out ‘When everyone’s gone home, you’ll grab the knife to satisfy your dark needs’ it’s uniquely their sound. A sadistic blackness encased in an epiphany of glistening euphoria.
The chugging juggernaut of Devastation, loses nothing of its brutality, as Laing smashes furiously and the accompanying players thrash away, all singing from the gut: ‘While there’s looting going on, there’s a devil flying overhead, what a fu*king pile of shit.’
Once again this sense of dark ecstasy permeates through their best tracks: For Agent 13 (an espionage tale of love and torture) and epic closer You Lied To Me.
A spindly riff which weaves around the refrain ‘You aren’t even who you said you are’ before Raegale plucks a solo from the abyss and shatters the senses. It’s like Floyd plying their trade in the depths of hell – and its divine.
The Lakes in full effect: Agent 13