07 July 2009

Githead, El Mocambo, Toronto 29 June 2009 -- a review


Colin Newman

Robin Rimbaud (Scanner)

Malka Spigel

Max Franken

I must confess that I find Githead problematic. Until recently, I didn’t understand the concept. Colin is thoughtfully intuitive but every project he does has a reason. I couldn’t pin it down.

Githead clearly isn’t a Colin Newman project, though in being its primary voice most people might assume as such. There is a layer that is Mr. Newman but really, that’s where he ends. As I found, each individual in the group has their own layer contributing to the whole-- although not like an onion, or geology. Githead feels like swimming in the Great Lakes here in Canada. As you move through the depths, there are stratums of hot and cold, clarity and murkiness. If it were an onion, or core sample, it would be so much easier to understand. Fluid dynamics is a messy, blurry business. Heading into the show I was hoping to see the side of Githead unintelligible from the songs and videos. Perhaps it was pathetic irony that the skies opened up and drenched the city.

I’ve had some fairly bad experiences lately with start times of bands. For some reason it seems that bands start earlier than I remember and having missed the beginning of a number of sets recently, I arrived uncharacteristically early to a near empty room. Toronto shows are difficult to begin with. It can take a long time for an audience here to warm up if at all and, being a Monday, it was looking unpromising. I should have had more faith in tradition as the room filled. Eventually, Colin, Malka, Robin and Max took their place among the crowd and settled in. I am used to the headliner--especially one with their collective resume-- not showing themselves until the beginning of their set. Band as audience. More blur.

The Two Koreas climbed to the stage. Tight and dynamic, it seemed like they could hold their own. By the second song the motorik styled bass and beats tasting of a hybridized La Düsseldorf and PiL was compelling. Still, as hard as the band tried to reel them in the audience stayed out of reach. Vocalist Stuart Berman jumped into the chasm in an attempt to engage. Beyond the challenge of the audience, the motorik seemingly stalled because, unlike the source comparisons, they were missing one thing. Songs. As Kubrick said of one contemporary director, “it’s all bun”. There seems to be enough talent and energy to make some sausage. I’m willing to wait and see.

After a brief pause between acts (I don’t recall any music played over the PA), the band disappeared behind stage and reappeared taking their positions. It takes a moment to start up as they plug into the Two Koreas’ equipment. Odd that the headliner doesn’t show up properly suited. This moment provided me with the clarity I needed for the rest of the night. Githead is a loose confederacy of interests. Colin hinted at the ad hoc nature of the band the previous week. This moment congealed the idea of improvisation as its very reason for being. Githead is a moment in time and place. Step into the lake, move through the layers, and let it wash over you.

Not recognizing the opening song “Faster”, “Fake Corpses” was up next, with its strangely summery groove set against Colin’s beat lyrical rhythm. This is what Colin does well. The first impression of Githead was that, at least where Colin was concerned, nothing has changed. This perplexed me at first. I like everything Colin has offered musically over the years and while I like change, why should he change when he still delivers? Here, in the spirit provided, the delivery couldn’t be any better. The most innovative thing accomplished is convincing Rimbaud to give up Scanner for Strummer. The open secret is that, until Githead, Robin hasn’t played the guitar since he was 16 years old. This pays off as he provides the melodic beauty of “Fake Corpses”. The line sounds like it could be a step-sequenced computerized bit, but Rimbaud’s translation refreshes. When they head into “Drop” the point is driven home. Malka’s bass is fluid, more so than the recorded version, and contributes immeasurably to the groove and the feel of the experience. Even with half the band staring at laptops, you get the sense that not much is planned. Performance is the order of the day.

“Drive By” sets a more aggressive tenor than what came before. What follows is possibly my only criticism. The show’s sound didn’t live up to the dynamics of the songs. Perhaps it’s the nature of using borrowed equipment but I like how one is thrown around by the change in tone between songs on the recorded material. It didn’t ruin the night but it’s not an insignificant detail. This was especially noticeable on the tunes where Malka took the mike. There is a wispy dreaminess at times on Artpop that didn’t substantially materialize during the show.
An unrehearsed track “Take Off” leads the encore. No matter, there is a comfort onstage that masks the fact. “Profile” was the last-- a clean finish.

By the end of the evening, the skies had cleared and there was a chill in air. As the band climbed into a cab to make their way to their airport hotel, I choose not to do the same and rather allow the buoyancy of the evening and my feet carry me to my west end home-- happy to immerse myself in the evening’s current.

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