By Bill Pearis
After two songs of sweating onstage, the drummer for Absolutely Free -- who made their live debut last night at Mile End venue La Salla Rossa -- peeled off his flannel shirt to reveal a Neu! t-shirt underneath. But by that point we already got it, though a Can shirt might have been more to the point.
Featuring four fifths of DD/MM/YYYY, as Absolutely Free they still make complex, time signature-shifting music, but this was less manic, less skronky with decidedly groovier rhythms. (For me, that's a definitely an "Oh Yeah.") With no recorded music to hear yet and a short 20-minute set, I don't think we've got a full picture of what these guys are capable of, but it was a very promising first show.
La Salla Rossa, which nests on top of a Spanish restaurant with the same name, was host to the night's showcase co-presented by SXSW. We also got the first taste of Cadence Weapon's new album which is due out in January or February -- his first in about three years. With screwed-ish beats (and a little dub reggae), his set was pretty terrific. Dude is confident and funny and drops lines about Lite Brites and had a song that seemed to be entirely about SXSW day parties, not sure if it was made up for the occasion. Best set of the night.
Headliners of the night were Toronto's Young Empires who some cynical types might dub Friendly Foals* and it wouldn't be too off the mark. Big Hooks, anthemic choruses, extra percussion, all very digestible. Young Empires are also pretty slick (and a little bro-y) but they seem destined to become big, at least in a Naked and The Famous kind of way (whose career path they seem to be modeling). Especially once they get around to putting out their debut, due out in January. (I like them better on record than live.)
Night Two opened with Daniel Isiah who is signed to Secret City (the home of Patrick Watson and Plants & Animals) and has an appealing desert twang to his sound (think Chris Isaak or Springsteen's "I'm on Fire") which you can check out on his most recent album, High Twilight. It was a nice start to the evening.
M for Montreal never lets attendees stand still for too long. In between bands at La Salla Rossa, we hopped across the street to affiliated restaurant/venue Case Del Popolo for two Icelandic bands (Iceland Airways co-presented). First were instrumental quartet For a Minor Reflection whose stirring music would be perfect for an Icelandic remake of Friday Night Lights. You've heard this kind of stuff before but they do it well and clearly love playing it.
Of Monsters and Men
The other Icelandic group, Of Monsters and Men, made more of an impression with their stirring folk rock that was augmented by horns and an especially fancy accordion. (It had LED switches on it.) While also similar to a lot of other sweeping ensembles (fill in your favorite here), the songs were memorable and I did wish their set had been a couple songs longer. So it goes with festivals.
Today I'll be seeing Colin Stetson, The Midway State, Hollerado, Parlovr, Thus: Owls (points for colon use), Doldrums, Bran Van 3000, Misteur Valaire and something called Tonstartsbandht, plus about 10 other groups. Hopefully organizers have budgeted time to eat. Look for reports on tonight and tomorrow's M festivities on Monday. Until then, click through for a few more picks from last night's action...
For a Minor Reflection
Of Monsters and Men
*We would also accept Foal-y Ghost! or Friendly Ghost!, both work too