It was an evening of opposites at Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night. The stage was lit up with a sparkly backdrop and flashing, twinkling lights, and the audience was generously and boisterously vocal. Cass McCombs, flanked by his three-piece band, seemed to be a man of few words, letting his well-crafted songs do the talking.
The show opened with “What Isn’t Nature,” an older song with a jangly guitar line reminiscent of the Walkmen (who, incidentally, McCombs toured with in 2009 – they also played Lee’s on their Toronto stop). There were short pauses in between each song – with not a word spoken by McCombs, combined with appreciative cheers from the audience – the set was fairly straight ahead and crowd-pleasing. With a discography spanning seven records, there was an inevitable mix of old and new songs, including “My Sister My Spouse,” “Robin Egg Blue,” and “Big Wheel.”
Before the last song of the set, McCombs finally spoke, thanking the audience and saying it would their last one for the night. The crowd responded with yells of “No!” to which McCombs grinned and quickly said, “Yes” in reply. There was a back and forth of “No!” and “Yes!” before the band launched into “County Line.” The song drew a unanimous surge of approval before the crowd mellowed out and swayed with probably the most well-known McCombs song in his catalogue.
After extended cheering and shouts, the band came out for one last song – the appropriately named “There Can Be Only One,” from McCombs’ latest record, Big Wheel and Others. Quickly thanking the audience once again, McCombs and band disappeared from the stage quietly, with the twinkly lights still flashing in their wake.
Let me preface this review with the confession that I’m a bit of a Crocodiles fangirl and I’m madly in love with their latest record, Crimes of Passion. Tuesday night’s show at Lee’s did not disappoint, though I wish that a band as solid as this would draw bigger audiences.
But the audience present for the show seemed pretty enamoured with the band, with cheers and hollers after each song. Frontman Brandon Welchez has all the charisma and swagger a rockstar ought to have, delivering every song with smolder and intensity. Truth: it was nearly impossible for me to tear my eyes off Welchez the entire show, especially when he was dancing. That’s how you know a band has a charismatic frontman. And also, it’s also how you know you have a bandcrush. But I digress.
The set list was heavy on songs from the latest album (which I have zero complaints about!) with a few older songs in between. Highlights included “Teardrop Guitar,” “Heavy Metal Clouds,” “Gimme Some Annihilation,” “Me and My Machine Gun” and “Marquis de Sade,” which Welchez dedicated to “all the sadists and masochists out there.” Welchez’s voice was nicely complemented by keyboardist Robin Eisenberg’s vocals.
As a live band, Crocodiles exceed their recordings by a long shot. Head-bangingly loud with the right mix of distorted, dreamy guitars, keyboard and drums, they left my ears ringing in the best way possible. Here’s hoping that there’ll be a much, much bigger turn out the next time Crocodiles hit Toronto – I know that I’ll more than likely be there.
Out of all of us at the Panic Manual, I’m probably the person least attuned to Canadian music. I’m not sure I have any valid excuses for that other than I never pay much attention to where a band is from.
I can only gather that ’94-’95 was a good year for the Halifax scene (I guess it was called the “Pop Explosion“) and Murderrecords. Sloan’s Twice Removed was released, followed by the Super Friendz’ power-debut Mock Up, Scale Down. I was in 9th grade and remember being intrigued by the latter album after the band did an odd piece on MuchMusic where they were interviewed in a convertible shortly, before taking off in the vehicle (who else misses MuchMusic of 1994? I love Buffy the Vampire reruns as much as the next guy, but I’m not sure the post-Znaimer entity could ever be considered a music video network).
That was 17 years ago (ick).
Toronto was lucky to get one of the two reunion dates the Super Friendz are doing this year in what seemed like sold-out capacity at Lee’s Palace, producing one of the most high-energy shows I’ve been to in recent memory. I’m sure 99% of that can be attributed to the fact that they were actually enjoying themselves up there, and you can always sense that. These guys have all moved on in some capacity, with both Murphy and the babelicious Drew Yamada (now a Pediatrician at the South Shore Community Health Centre in Halifax), but I reckon the reason it sounded better than just a jam session is that they’ve produced and toured music together as recently as 2003.
The material from Mock Up, Scale Down still has some irresistibly catchy riffs that have held up stiffly against the test of time, as the aging, pogoing crowd will be able to attest to from Friday’s show. Their opener joined them onstage for an awkwardly long back-up vocal interlude, and a lot of verbal exchanges with the audience were lost in low mumbles, but none of that seemed to matter as these guys were having pure unadulterated fun up there.
The highlight of the show was definitely 10 Lbs. where the crowd broke out into a choral sing-along and I was reminded of why this is one of the best lost songs of the 1990’s. First of all, it’s deliciously reminiscent of early college-themed times where everything, including hormones and the uncontrollable desire to get laid, is soaring out of control. Most of us would’ve had some torturous experience trying to get into a relationship of some sort.
I thought The Rodeo Song was my draw
The more the horse bucked, the deeper you’d fall
But you worked there for roots and for old ties
You were there for your friend, not the one on the rise
I wish we were adult contemporaries when we went through school
’cause I’d have hung around and I’d have walked you home from school
Your friend’s the actress, don’t lose 10 lbs. too
‘Cause you are as pretty, as pretty times two
But she doesn’t come alone – she comes with a friend
and that means you, you’ll come around
So bells ring and whistles blow
At least I’m alive
You take the highway in and you take it home
and I walk through patterned blocks, I cut it alone
You should never laugh at other people’s jokes
’cause I fill up with pride, live my life in the hopes
I live my life in the hopes
I’ve listened to it about 30 times over the past 2 days and think it sounds even better than it did when first released and bet it will sound even better by 2029 (though I may need the Whisper 2000 to hear it by then). Usually one song doesn’t epitomize an entire performance for me, but in this case it did. It’s the only thing I remember and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to it another 30 times now.
Rescue Us From Boredom Undertow
Friend of Family
Hedging Karate Man
When They Paid Me 10 Lbs.
Actual Set List (thanks, commenter)
When They Paid Me
Rescue Us From Boredom
Let You Go Cold
Just Say So
The World’s Most Embarrasing Moment
Down In Flames
Girls And Their Boys (encore)
Absurd Without It (encore)
Up & Running (encore)
KRAMER: How can I possibly thank you? SOUP NAZI: You are the only one who understands me. KRAMER: You suffer for your soup. SOUP NAZI: Yes. That is right. KRAMER: You demand perfection from yourself, from your soup. SOUP NAZI: How can I tolerate any less from my customer? CUSTOMER: Uh, gazpacho, por favor. SOUP NAZI: Por favor? CUSTOMER: Um, I’m part Spanish. SOUP NAZI: Adios muchacho!
To truly appreciate the experience of a Mark Kozelek concert, we must apply Seinology instead of logic. While Kozelek certainly isn’t a Nazi with a hatred for any delineation from the soup-ordering process, one might wonder if he might spontaneously combust from annoyance. There are certain things he will not tolerate, to which I am providing a list of don’ts should you ever consider seeing him on tour in the future:
Don’t use your cell phone–if you think he won’t notice your quick text message or tweet, you’re sadly mistaken. Your glowing screen will give you away instantly, and some brown-nosing fellow attendees may well rat you out.
Don’t take photos–for this rule there aren’t any exceptions, unless he’s given you a photo pass. Interestingly enough, when someone near the stage started snapping pictures he said there were “no photos” but remembering he had issued one (a single) photo pass, he asked “Who did I give the photo pass to?” The gentleman with the camera responded “Me!” and Mr. Kozelek went onto express his wonderment that anyone would want to cover a concert for free. “You’re not even getting paid…stand around for 4 hours? I don’t leave my house unless I get paid”
Don’t yell out requests or attempt to have clever discourse–as the poor naive dope last year learned (the berating he suffered is included as the last song in his tour video), Koz doesn’t want to discuss his film cameos, and he certainly doesn’t want to know what you’d like to hear unless you’re a cute girl.
Don’t talk excessively or loudly–you will be roasted on an open Kozelek-stoked fire.
While none of these rules are excessive or unreasonable, it’s rare to see a performer call their so-called fans out on disobedience of basic concert-going civilities. It’s no wonder Mark Kozelek has never played the Horseshoe Tavern; the sheer rabble of the front bar doing business as usual would be enough to turn him into a regular Timothy McVeigh.
That said, it’s impossible to not accept the guy’s abrasiveness given his consistent performance over the past 20 years both in terms of regular, high caliber releases (through Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon / his solo career) and through his exhaustive touring schedule. Early on throughout his set, he observed that we were a well-behaved audience (certainly compared to last year’s debacle at Lee’s Palace) and that this was the way it should be. “You respect me; I respect you”. A stoic, “patience young grasshopper” moment.
The set started promptly around 9:45 at the Great Hall, a charming venue in Parkdale (near the cluster of great Pho shops lining the Ossington strip). It was hot as all hell inside, but the persistent humming of an air conditioner (which didn’t seem to be doing anything anyway) led to Kozelek instructing his sound guy to shut it off about 1/3 through the show. I arrived to find groups of (predominantly) couples and goofy 20-something guys sitting on the floor and a stampede quickly took place towards the stage once the show started.
What unfolded was what I would expect only Mark Kozelek can deliver. A 2-hour journey through unexpected discourse, tasteless jokes, constant tinkering with lighting, and the absolute bearing of one’s soul onstage through song. We were lucky to catch him a good mood. He seemed elated that a boxing magazine had come to interview them, and his graciousness with respect to his musical career’s endurance was something I never thought I’d hear.
There were several moments that were particularly memorable, but not surprising given some of the topic coverage in Among The Leaves (his latest release–see: Sunshine in Chicago). First, he spotted an attractive girl close to the right hand stage and called out the guy who was right in front of him, dead centre. “Look at this guy in the baseball cap and beer. You might notice my listener-base has changed over the years to guys with beards and baseball caps. Who knows how much better I might be playing if she was standing there instead of him?” Then, deep into the set while he was thanking his sound guy and others on the tour he got to a woman named Sarah. “Thank you Sarah for fucking me later”…catching himself in the moment and the aghast laughs from the crowd he quickly said “I’m sorry Sarah…Sarah’s like, 55. I’m sorry. It’s just that when you go on Tour and hear a woman’s voice, you get excited”.
As a brusque person myself, I can accept the cliches that Kozelek rattles out. The rigid intolerance of concert attendees is understandable given his devotion to his art. The desire to be an ageless rock star bedding attractive young women night after night registers on the mildly lecherous scale, but who among us can say we wouldn’t claim the same? Well, maybe not quite as vocally. Maybe not even in the same percentile range. But no matter–most of the above is par for the terrain. The sheer grind of constant solo traveling with the same small group of people, highway hotels, restaurant meals, and domestic beer would be enough to permanently alter anyone’s personality. I’ve stated this before, but I maintain that touring is a viciously unnatural microcosm and I can’t even begin to imagine how rapidly it can wear you down.
Kozelek regularly whisks through Europe and North America at an alarming pace for a 45-year old (though I noted he stated he was 40 when musing about his 20-year career and how lucky he was to be successful). So how he manages to maintain an artistic rebirth on the nylon-stringed guitar is beyond me. Admiral Fell Promises was one of the best albums of 2010 and Among the Leaves is one of the best of 2012, tackling his acerbic humor and proving that he is more than just a deep misanthrope. Most artists at his stage would’ve chosen to release a 20-year retrospective. Instead, he has chosen to write completely new material tackling the process of songwriting and taking an analytic glance at his life. The new album tours well for this reason–it’s an amalgamation of everything to date.
Setlist (my highlight moments are in bold)
Get Along Home Cindy
That Bird Has a Broken Wing
Track Number 8
Missed My Heart
Unknown (mentioning Vancouver, Halifax, Japan)
The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man
UK Blues – in which he describes how much he “fuckin’ hates that (Air Canada) airline”
Sunshine in Chicago
Unknown (mentioning his sister’s divorce, home across a cornfield in Ohio, and kids) – on anyone else, I’d describe this as a cloyingly sappy mess. As a Kozelek song, it’s magnificent.
Half Moon Bay
Among the Leaves
I Know it’s Pathetic But that Was The Greatest Night of My Life
Have You Forgotten – surprising to hear anything off Song for a Blue Guitar
Celebrated Summer – There’s something about Husker Du songs that make for magnificent cover versions.
Duk Koo Kim – dedicated to the aforementioned Sarah, and the best song of the night for me. He explained that tuning the guitar for this song would be near impossible, but it was pulled off in epic proportions.
I’ll end with one last thought. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other performer who gives more than Kozelek does both onstage and through his songwriting. During his reminiscence of his 20-year career, he noted that “All of my musician friends from when I first started are English Teachers now. They’re all married with kids now. Maybe that’s why they look like they’re 60″. A perennial bachelor and serial monogamist (I’m not sure if he’s still with his girlfriend, but I would assume so), Kozelek is on a journey that involves as much exhaustion in artistic birth. The type of stuff he’s penning and performing now is coming from the same fountain of stuff that put him on the map in the first place. It’s sap-your-strength vulnerable, depressingly honest, and disgustingly overfamiliar themes that apply to the broad strokes of the human condition (kind of like a Woody Allen movie). Love, loss, all that stuff.
Now go see him live. You might hate him, you might love him, but you’ll remember it.