October 12th, 2009
And chop it, did they ever.
Junior Boys, from Toronto and the electronic blue abyss, put on a deft display of chilled electro ballads and thumping dance inducers Saturday night. This was my second time in their presence and they didn’t disappoint. Lack of disappointment is inherent to their impassioned synthetic craft. Chop Suey, on the other hand, I’ve kind of come to loathe attending shows at given how headliners rarely take the stage before midnight. Which, fine, it’s a club, it’s been that way for years, and I’m probably being crabby. But when there’s only two bands and the first one doesn’t start until 11 or later, it’s annoying. It just feels like we’re being strung along.
JB’s set list was well balanced between the popular jams from both So This Is Goodbye, their greatest, and Begone Dull Care, their latest. “Parallel Lines” and “Work” commenced the continuous crowd bobbing. Vocalist Jeremy Greenspan alternated between his keyboard—adorned with an inanimate crow—and his guitar, which added some excellent texture not found on record. I think he played mostly a bass guitar at Neumos in 2006. A nostalgic string of songs followed, all from Goodbye: “Count Souvenirs”, “The Equalizer”, and “Double Shadow” which was transformed to the point that I almost didn’t recognize it. Greenspan did most of the talking (he received enthusiastic responses to his continued questions concerning our well being), while beatmaker Matthew Didemus roamed and paced behind his cavalcade of consoles. A real-life drummer kept time in the background.
“Hazel” sounded a bit stuttered—stop-and-go—but aside from that, Didemus was on point and his elastic beats pulsated well with Greenspan’s quiet croon. “Bits & Pieces”, a blind love affair with 80s club technique, rode high. “In The Morning”, all twinkly, starry-eyed and scuzzy bass, is probably their best cut.
As for the other band, oh man was that unexpected. I suppose you might label Circlesquare as musical and Canadian brethren of Junior Boys, but their opiate-heavy, down-tempo trance rock was unsettling at first, and rather enjoyable by set’s end. The bass and drums were massive and marched defiantly on our wits. Two projector screens flanked the band, one in the foreground and one in the background, and both at stage right. Vocalist Jeremy Shaw seems to be the band’s creative force, and unleashed his Dave Gahan-like vocals (droning, echoed, insistent) in a curious slacks-and-suspenders outfit. The guitarist’s bold coiffure, akin to Lyle Lovett’s curly mop atop close shaven sides, became my visual focal point as I struggled to figure out which sounds were his. There were three songs where ‘dancing’ was the core of the lyrics, which seemed odd given that the music never really increased to a dance velocity. But then again, oddities crept their way into much of Circlesquare’s deceptively atypical output.