Friday, August 6, 2010
Shit Camera Exposé: Apollo Ghosts / Dog Day (Raw Sugar Café)
Years ago, SCQ decided not to review live shows because watching a band critically and attempting to translate the evening’s mood into a blog-post inevitably distracted me from savoring the moment and socializing.
Going to shows alone is different, though. Sure, you react strangely between sets on instinct, wandering the venue to keep occupied, fidgeting through your bag to avoid doing nothing. But there’s also a freedom when friends aren’t locking you in, shoulder-to-shoulder. Nothing prevents you from moving seats several times during a show, taking nonsense pictures with your shit camera, or viewing the venue and its happenings like an undisturbed fly on the wall. Maybe I want to review live shows after all. Introducing Shit Camera Exposé:
No sooner had I walked into Raw Sugar Café, nestled humbly in Ottawa’s Chinatown, when I was escorted out by a leaping, cape-adorned man and his small tribe of dancing fans. Meet Adrian Teacher, vocalist and guitarist for Apollo Ghosts, the Vancouver-based trio who opened the night's bill. Superhero façade aside, Teacher seemed to possess the energy of a grade-school educator (which he is...?), pointing out show-goers to participate, and after our impromptu jog around a Chinese pavilion out front, I caught how that vigor propelled the band’s performance.
Chugging through a tougher version of ‘To A Friend Who Has Been Through a War’ and dedicating ‘Salmon Capital’, their “prog-rock song if we could do prog-rock”, to Dog Day’s Seth Smith, Apollo Ghosts brought Mount Benson to life with all of that record’s quirky yelps and tight riffs. If you were aching for something brooding or insular, this set would’ve exiled you to the bar. Hell, if you got any closer to the stage, Teacher would’ve made you carry him throughout the band’s throw-down of ‘Things You Go Through’. I should know; I was responsible for his legs.
Drag that so much of the audience seemed oblivious to the material, though, as I typically had to prompt clapping after each song cause nobody knew how short these tracks are independently. No kidding, I kinda felt sorry for a lot of these onlookers, who were unable to mentally stitch Apollo Ghosts’ minute-long jams into the greater sequencing of Mount Benson's weirdo-majesty. Those in the know caught their contagious buoyancy straightaway and I was pleased to catch a few people carrying Mount Benson vinyl after the set.
No matter what show I attend, there’s always a chick wearing a red dress so tight she can hardly stand, yet dancing anyway. Raw Sugar Café had one of those, as well as several aside-worthy curios that seemed out-of-place for a rock venue. About the size of my apartment and scattered with peculiar chairs and retro vinyl couches, the setting appeased an intimate, albeit sweating, crowd. Having last seen Dog Day play a raucous gig at the expansive Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, I couldn’t imagine how they’d finesse their songs for such quaint quarters.
It ended up being a non-issue since Dog Day are touring as the paired-down duo of Smith and Nancy Urich. Explaining early to the crowd that they’ve moved into the woods outside Halifax and abandoned mankind, Dog Day (Smith on guitar, Urich on drums, and occasionally trading places) launched into a mob of new tracks that sounded as urgent as their Concentration material, if more groove-oriented. And although I’d scored what was easily the most embarrassing chair on site (leopard-print with metallic armrests, yes), I couldn’t remain seated when fresh songs like ‘Final Fight’ (available to stream on their Myspace) and ‘Living In the Woods’ (working title, maybe) pounded so savagely, yet so vulnerably.
Smith rocked some wonderfully discordant solos while Urich stared excitedly forward during each song, nearly frothing over her drum-kit. Ending the set with an outstanding trilogy of tracks – a new one sung by Urich, ‘Stray’ off Concentration, and an extended ‘Warm Regards’ from New Problems – Dog Day gave a thoroughly promising glimpse of their future as a duo. Promising because, from all accounts, nothing crucial has changed. Smith’s songwriting, his and Urich’s subdued vocal exchanges; that’s what Dog Day has always been, and thankfully what unflinchingly remains.
I’ll miss their on-stage axe-battles, but who knows what future tours will look like. Smith openly admits that they had barely a month to prep for this current excursion westward from SappyFest, and that Urich learned the drums in that tight span of time. For something born under such pressure, Dog Day has never looked so natural.