Although I walked in towards the end of their first song, I could tell that Wye Oak has already attracted a following. Unbeknownst to me, this girl/boy duo has been around since around 2006, showing me that there’s something in the water in Baltimore.
It’s difficult to resist the temptation to at least make superficial comparisons with Beach House, our favorite duo of 2010. Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner has the same husky soulful leanings as Ms. Legrand; Andy Stack’s drumming and keyboards is a parallel reversal of Alex Scally’s guitar work. I’m not saying Wye Oak is the bizarro-world Beach House–they’re notably noisier, thrashier, and higher energy, but it’s reassuring to know that the two bands are good friends. Jenn Wasner showed a flair for interacting with the audience, and I’m sure her solicitation for a Canadian Spouse will be met with a shitload of offers.
Best: I Hope You Die off My Neighbor / My Creator EP
From Backstage Rider
Next came the legendary Lou Barlow, who had confessed he was napping backstage before his set. There are a few people in this world that have always oozed the intrigue of 90’s cool, but Lou is definitely one of those people. It kind of grinds my gears that to this day, he seems to be almost as associated with Dinosaur Jr. as he is with Sebadoh, Folk Implosion, his plethora of hybrid side projects, or solo career.
He started off without his band, playing an acoustic set comprised of a historic rainbow, not dissimilar to what I had read about his Carrboro North Carolina show last week. What surprised me about his solo set though, was that I actually found it highlighted how hard it is to tame a venue like the Horseshoe due to the bar set-up outside of the performance area. The crowd was a decent size, but I would say that the bulk of attendees not directly around the stage area were there to go out on a Saturday night, making it one of the chattiest shows I’ve been to in a long time (and though he may not have cared, I found this unacceptable for Lou fucking Barlow).
As readers of the blog will know, this is definitely my crotchety old lady pet gripe about Toronto show goers. I can relax this policy for enthusiastic fans (and there were several upfront); but for people wanting to talk about how so-and-so is a bitch because they used your name in a text message, it’s just not cool. It’s just plain disrespectful, and I would not do that to anyone I had paid to go and see perform.
Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll admit that I probably would not have noticed the background noise at all, had the one-man aspect of his set not highlighted it. I have covered the difficulties of completely solo performance before, but I’m glad that Lou’s glistening catalogue saved it from deteriorating into a level of discomfort. For me, and I’m sure for a lot of the younger (read, younger in this case would mean 35 and under) attendees, hearing songs like “Magnet’s Coil”, “Too Pure”, “Soul and Fire”, and especially, “On Fire” live is something that is irreplaceable. His voice is still beautiful, and he has passionate stories about bootlegs gone wrong (someone had mentioned the “Life in Japan” bootleg, which a band member had angrily made and distributed when he was told they wouldn’t cover the cost of admitting his girlfriend into the show).
The second part of his set involved Mike Watt’s (the illustrious punk bassist’s band has purchased a lot of Kinder Surprise eggs and YOP in Canada) missingmen joining him onstage to perform his more recent stuff. To me, this was what really blew me away…after all of these years, Barlow is still churning out high caliber music and it’s unfair to expect him to be a one-trick jukebox of past Sebadoh / Folk Implosion tunes. I actually felt that this half of the set was the best thing about the show, bringing a much needed energy / interaction and effectively shutting up all of the background chatty cathys. Goodnight, Unknown and Emoh are both great releases that I have left lingering on the shelf because I haven’t made the effort to re-conceptualize an artist after a long period of neglect.
Barlow came out again on his own to perform a solo encore with what I think was a ukelele for the first few songs. Together or Alone and On Fire were the big standouts here, and when 1:15 A.M. rolled around, he was still going strong with even more. The reviews have been consistent with marathon-long sets and encores, and you can rest assured that if you see these guys on this tour, you’re going to get your money’s worth.