Tuesday, April 3, 2012

LIVE REVIEW: Colin Stetson in Waterloo, ON and Buffalo, NY

Because of the fact that we had 2 members of the blog see Colin Stetson live this weekend, we're doing our first ever double review. Mark saw Colin Saturday in Waterloo, ON and Kyle saw him Sunday in Buffalo, NY.  


I think that the best concert experiences of my life up until this point have been concerts with a lot of crowd involvement. There is just something about jumping and dancing around in a communal release of energy that gives me a rush of excitement unlike any other. These shows are often more about artists being able to engage a crowd than actual musicianship. So, it’s not very often that I go to a show and I’m wowed by pure musicianship, but that’s exactly what happened when I was fortunate enough to take in Colin Stetson on a recent Saturday night.

This performance was a new experience for me, to say the least. Most shows that I go to are normally in small clubs or bars with many people in their 20’s. This concert was held in a lecture hall at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics and the crowd was noticeably older (to put it bluntly). After some research, I found out that the Perimeter Institute has been putting on a series of concerts for a while now. After seeing how awesome this concert was, I’ll definitely have my eyes open for any upcoming concerts that sound interesting.

The first act of the night was violinist Sarah Neufeld. Apparently she is most famous for playing in some band called Arcade Fire (has anybody ever heard of them?). I’m not going to sit here and act like I know anything about the violin and/or making music with it, but I definitely did enjoy her set. She played solo with her violin in a set that took up about half an hour. I’m not sure that it’s something I’d go see again on its own, but as an opening act I think she more than held her ground.

When I go to a concert I’m usually there for the main act and not any of the opening acts. If any opening acts are good, then I just consider it gravy. Debashis Sinha is a musician from Toronto and he put on one of the coolest and most interesting performances that I’ve seen in a while. His set consisted of him looping percussion over some intense-sounding electronics that created some very dense and captivating soundscapes.

I think the most interesting aspect of his performance was how creative he was in making all the percussive noises that he did. He had numerous different shakers that all made different sounds. I think the coolest thing was how he used a single drum to create some obscure noises. He’d record himself sliding his fingers across the drum with a lot of pressure, then he’d do something like slide his fingernails across his drum to make these really wispy noises. I just thought that what he was doing was very creative and I’d gladly go see it again.

Next up was the headliner, Colin Stetson. As his giant bass saxophone sat there and waited for him to come out, it just looked daunting to me. That instrument is the size of a small child. I’ve heard in interviews with him that his specific machine is from the early 1900’s. It makes me wonder how the hell Colin came across the need to learn and play the instrument, but one thing is for sure; he plays it well.

Colin strolled out on the stage looking relaxed; he calmly strapped a microphone around his neck, and hooked his bass saxophone on up to a harness that he was wearing. He then jumped right into “Awake On Foreign Shores”, followed by “Judges”, the title track off of his latest album. If anybody out there is skeptical that those songs are overdubbed in any way on his studio recordings, I can tell you firsthand that it’s all him making those noises. With different microphones strapped all over his saxophone, every noise from the air moving to the percussion of the instrument is amplified. Watching him perform is kind of a mesmerizing marvel. How he can perform for so long and make such harsh noises with his saxophone is completely beyond me. What he does when he performs looks like it would easily kill any normal human being.

Colin played a relatively short set; it was probably just under an hour. During that time, he played a good mix of songs from his Polaris Prize shortlisted album New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges and new songs that will be appearing on his yet to be announced third studio album. One of the highlights of the night was actually when he put away his bass saxophone and opted for the smaller alto saxophone. He proceeded to play what he said would be the title track to his upcoming album. I think he played for what must have been close to 10 very intense minutes. The reason I could tell that he was so intense was that at one point I could actually see the saliva dripping from his mouth as he played.

The one other notable thing about Colin’s performance was the physical toll that playing seemed to take on him. As his set went on, I could tell that he was becoming more and more gassed. When he would finish songs, he would end up hunched over with his hands on his knees breathing heavily. After one of the songs he actually downed an entire bottle of water too. To see what it must take for Colin to perform night in and night out is very impressive, and I gained a ton of respect for him because of it.

To conclude, this was one of the most impressive displays of musicianship that I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Even if a person didn’t really like Colin’s music before seeing him, I think it would be impossible to come away from his live show without an appreciation for what he does musically. - Mark Gillis


"It was fucking awesome" - Mark Gillis (Your Podcast Opinion Is Wrong #13)

I need to start this review with a bit of honesty: I never really "got" Colin Stetson. His music to me has its moments, but in large I find it repetitive and mostly good for marveling at his technical ability. It's the kind of thing where I have a lot of respect for it, but overall it's just not something I can listen to on a regular basis. Knowing how he creates his music has given me far more patience than I would normally have for something that doesn't immediately grab my ear. I tend to be the guy that dismisses something without giving it the proper time required to fester into my consciousness, but something about Colin Stetson told me to keep coming back. Despite my best efforts, something about his music remained lost on me.

The bill of the night also included Arcade Fire member Sarah Neufeld performing solo violin songs. I don't claim to know anything about the violin, but her performance was pleasant enough to me. I'm sure if I knew anything about the violin I would consider her very talented. I imagine it was weird to her to even be playing to a crowd of under 100 people. 

I knew when this show was announced that I was going to attend simply because I wanted a better understanding of Stetson's music, as well as taking the opportunity to witness someone perform that was entirely unique. I can't say that I'm totally convinced about his music, but I can say that Colin has an impressive live show. Watching him play is an absolutely unbelievable sight that needs to be experienced in person, and hearing him on record just is not the same thing. The way he's able to seemingly sing while playing or play percussion with his hands seems nothing short of magic, and nothing about it seems humanly possible in any way.

I found myself having an entirely different level of excitement watching him produce breath from the depths of his chest and somehow creating sounds that I'm sure his instrument was not intended to make. It's one thing to hear that his album doesn't have any loops or effects, but it's another thing to see it on display and in the flesh. Videos of him performing simply don't tell the entire story; this is the kind of musician that needs to be witnessed in person. Even for someone who doesn't completely understand his music, his ability to play it is unquestionable. The endurance required to play a 5ft long heavy brass instrument for upwards of 5-8 minutes without removing your mouth from the reed at any given time has got to astronomical. Whenever he finishes a song you can visually see Colin take a deep breath as if he's coming up for air after being underwater. He would frequently end songs by pacing around the stage, shaking his arms violently, and drinking a lot of water. His performance looked so exhausting that even asking for an encore would feel wrong, I imagine he just collapsed onto a couch backstage.

This was however, lost on portions of the crowd who turned out simply to act like morons.  Not only did this show feature loud conversations while Colin was performing, it also featured a group that took it upon themselves to do interpretive dancing to Colin's music. I also heard people making raspberry sounds with their mouths while Colin was on stage, effectively doing everything they could to ruin the show for those around them. I don't know if these people came simply out of curiosity because of Stetson's contributions to other bands, but that's what I would expect considering their behavior. I feel like there needs to be harsher rules for people that act this way at shows, because this isn't exactly an isolated incident, and it's something that most music fans just have to live with.

Either way, I went in with a lot of curiosity and left in awe of a fantastically talented musician. I still hesitate to call myself a fan of his music, but I couldn't help being completely and totally impressed by Colin Stetson. Not a bad night out by any stretch of the imagination. - Kyle Shoemaker

No comments:

Post a Comment