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Triceratreetops, GHQ & Charalambides @ Casa, 06/07

Posted by Susan / June 8, 2007

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A Suoni doorman got creative with his Sharpie.

I knew I was in for it when a guy at the front of the room began bopping his head with a slow intensity before the set had even begun.

There's just something about being part of an audience paralyzed by its own reverence that makes me predisposed to grumpiness. Seriously, now. Did I actually just get shushed at Casa?

But still I persevered. Well, at least for a while.

Openers Triceratreetops had some very promising bits. On the whole - and this is not necessarily a bad thing - their music just made me wish I was high. It's the kind of droning, repetitive guitar plucking, directionless singing and ambient noise that is the best thing ever when you're in a certain frame of mind. Think the 18-minute B-side of a pop group whose eyes have been chemically opened. Think Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Monitor." Strumming two chords in various rhythmic permutations would sound so good to me, if I were like, totally tasting the music.

Clearly Zeppelin-influenced, the band combined sounds in a really pleasing way, with plenty of solid acoustic power chords. It's a little tough to get into new music, though, when the song remains the same.

Continuing the acid drone were New Yorkers GHQ, who were by far the best, and most interesting of the three. Their set gave me the odd, lingering sense that I was watching one of those art films made up of old Super 8 footage of seagulls or something, except that the projector was broken. Or maybe, you're having a dream and there's music that's technically in the background, but it edges into your consciousness because it's so incessant, and then you wake up and wish you could remember it and just can't. Does that make sense?

No. Of course it doesn't. But rambling narrative is the best I can do under the circumstances. GHQ is hard to pin down. What I can tell you is that I applaud the skilful use of mandolins whenever I come across it, which is rarely. And there was some really nice fucking with the vocals - a semi-appropriation of throat singing, some effects that made Marcia Bassett's voice sound like the walls of my house can talk, and they're unsettled. It was cool.

But here's the thing. Even when it was good, the tone of the night was too heavy (see above re: shushing,) on the part of both the audience and the artists. In my humble opinion, the best art has a sense of humour. I don't say this because I'm uncomfortable with dank realities or because I crave escape. It's just that taking yourself too seriously means ignoring how fundamentally ridiculous and surreal it is to be human. That's why Vonnegut can kick so much literary ass, and why Charlie Chaplin can cut so deep. Serious art - and that includes serious music - is okay, but it's lacking that certain something that takes it to another level. Maybe it's the self-awareness, maybe it's just comic relief; I don't know about you, but I like my artists to have a well-honed understanding of the silly. When Texan psychedelic musicians Charalambides took the stage, the first thing I thought was, "the grass is so green"? Are you really singing that lyric with a straight face?

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Actually, I lied. That's not the first thing I thought; the very first thing was, somebody wants to be Laurie Anderson. Now I happen to think that this isn't such a terrible ambition - better than, say, just aching to be Avril Lavigne, or something equally odious - but there's really only room for one Laurie Anderson (and some people would argue not even that.)

Luckily the imitation didn't last, but one problem stuck around: for a singer's voice to carry an often monotone tune that is seriously lyric-heavy on top of all that reverb and guitar wanderings, the voice has to be exceptional. The tone has to be flawless - not just clear, not just transcendent, not just standing on its own but obliterating everything else. Not many singers can do that. Christina Carter's vocals had moments of real texture, but the quality was nowhere near consistent. Her high notes were too unsteady, and her forte was blown out. There was nothing much to latch onto.

Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I just don't know good music when I hear it, and maybe my hangups about artists who take themselves seriously are just manifestations of my own insecurity, or mommy issues - who knows? Maybe Charalambides just got a bad break, having to get up at the end of what was already a long night. What I do know is that over the course of the last few songs, the room steadily cleared out as the audience lost steam with what my partner dubbed "the attack of the drones."

My attention wandered too, and rather than cling to the strains of a third hour of jamming, I became preoccupied by the fact that I have no idea what GHQ stands for. To pass the time, we came up with the following guesses:

God hurls Quebec
Grizzlies hump quietly
Garbled, hysterical queens
Gatorade has qualities
Gators have qualms
Gorilla-hewn quagmire
Gulp! Help! Quicksand!

I hereby invite you to submit your own suggestions based on GHQ's cryptic name. Or, you know, the actual meaning behind it. Whatever. Anything to get this drone out of my head.

Discussion

8 Comments

Jer / June 8, 2007 at 01:29 pm
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Great horny quilt.

But since your post's layered with it, let's open the discussion on quiet crowds at quiet shows. I get the whole high-art pretentious argument you're making, but sometimes quiet shows are ridiculous if people are talking through them (and by quiet, I don't mean volume...quiet music can be pretty loud). Take when a singer songwriter is up there, or shoe-gazers are shoe gazing... sometimes it's just rude to be talking through that.

And heck, it's not just quiet shows. Even some loud ass fun filled rock shows deserve the quiet respect of a crowd.
Susan / June 8, 2007 at 02:38 pm
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I'm with you, Jer. But when the band comments on the hushed, unmoving crowd would we say that's an indication of something? GHQ's singer stopped at one point and said, "whoa. You guys can talk."

I'm all about respect for the artists. But when the artists themselves are uncomfortable with the respect...?
rrrobyn / June 8, 2007 at 04:53 pm
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i dug it all in dif ways
but y'know: biased
Jer / June 11, 2007 at 02:55 pm
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Ok. I didn't realize the band actually said something.

I guess it's hard to generalize since all bands have a different relationship to audience attention. There's nothing that seems more pretentious than someone telling an audience to keep it down, and there's nothing more obnoxious than someone telling the crowd to make some noise.

Once again, my point is that I have no point.

rrrobyn / June 11, 2007 at 05:18 pm
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ohnonono - the band just *commented* on how quiet the room was btwn songs. this particular crowd, and the kind of fans this particular scene or whatever has is basically the most devoted-to-(outsider)-music-and-music-collection crew i know of, cf terrastock - pretty much no one talks during sets, that's just how it goes, i guess (also sometimes you just don't wanna talk, right)
Susan / June 13, 2007 at 02:49 pm
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Hey, yeah, fair enough. Hushed awe just tends to make me grumpy. It's entirely possible that this is my own issue - maybe I'm working through some childhood museum trauma, or maybe I've jsut been to too many shows where it seems like you can't be cool unless you're having no fun whatsoever.

But I will say that there's a difference between not wanting to talk and actively preventing others from doing so, even in respectful tones. My partner and I were reduced to passing notes, for goodness sake. Am I back in Mr. Taylor's grade 8 history class? And we clearly weren't the only ones who felt this way, as the couple at the next table eventually asked to borrow a pen and some paper. I would argue that there's also a difference between being devoted to the music and encasing it in a cone of silence. Any thoughts?

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