There were a few funny circumstances surrounding the show. Supposedly Owen and Thomas slept for four hours and then drove up seven hours to get here. They played on the 15th in Washington and the 18th at Coachella, and then supposedly went to Palm Springs (where your ears change?) and then came up here. They talked about it like they were starting fresh, even though many of the elements from the earlier shows, including some of the highlights of this one for me, are becoming a pretty rigid order. Hell, Owen appears to be repeating some of his banter, like the stuff while Don't Stop On My Account begins or "We're only going to play new songs now, because they're better." which is a total lie in two ways. Also...Owen chose to have it inside. The ICA has a fine inside venue, but fuck they have a wonderful platform overlooking the ocean that's great for concerts (Black Moth Super Rainbow aaaa). I believe I saw Owen reading some sort of book while I wandered around (or assessed the perimeter)...and Thomas got there 45 minutes before doors, and came through the main entrance past all of us waiting in line. Hmm hmm! Glad they're still selling scores, too. Aaaaaanyway.
Snowblink actually showed up on a reddit discussion of alt-country groups. I don't know if I would go that far, but they definitely aren't just your hippie folk vibe, if the Michael Jackson cover didn't tip you off. I loved the power of the sound without percussion at all. They were the kind of band that would make no sense for a standing venue, but are also maybe a bit too much for a sitting venue. No drums to rouse the crowd, but clearly so much spirit rising through their music. I liked the atmopsheric additions, but it sounded best when they were just straight-ahead groovin'.
Ok ok ok ok ok so: on the back of my copy of Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man lies the setlist and a few frenzied scribbles (I can't read these...):
E is for Estranged was as good as I've heard it...I always compare it to the rather scratchy and tuneless intro to the FM4 Recording in Vienna, but that's an unfair bar to set. This is the Dream of Win and Regine was really the taking-off point for Owen, with him shouting over an especially boisterous bass. In a lot of ways this was a high-point of the show, since Owen seemed confident and renewed in himself. But my favorite moment came during Scandal at the Parkade, a once-rare track now a cornerstone of the setlist. "Tight as all hell," I wrote, and I remember all of his lines coming together across the song. Instead of cabbages and butter, the forums finally got some insight here:
It felt like a piece in the style of Has a Good Home, i.e. somewhat written to be looped in the first place, and thus not having the occasional redundancies or difficulties that the looping has (such as the lack of a contrasting section and extra pickup measure in Many Lives -> 49 MP ), and yet so so so so so so modern, to be almost included on Heartland. Anyway to hear it was just... and even though he's been playing it more often, I felt intensely blessed when he started off on That's When the Audience Died. Definitely my favorite song from Has a Good Home, with it's lashing web of intersecting melodies, and I got a wish come true as well: Thomas accompanied, walking in halfway through in his semi-tranced way. His guitar accompaniment made a much wider sound, adding to the climax near the end of the song, and giving Owen more freedom to adventure outward into confidence and excitement. This setlist has become the prototype for the rest of his shows, and especially after Coachella and the island break, it felt like a coming home.
"Pitchfork called it a slam dunk." "Shut up. I've never heard of that site."
Midnight Directives was one of those "new songs" that they said they'd play because they were "better." They did a fine job. Keep the Dog Quiet + Mt. Alpentine was a strange performance, but I don't exactly remember why. Thomas' percussion was more creative than usual, I think. The Great Elsewhere rose from the muck, and it was mostly spot on, but I remember some cracks starting to appear in the face of things. The nervousness continued with Lewis Takes Action which, although the performance was fine, Owen forgot his "wurlitzer version of his voice," which he cutely added back before the encore as a leading tone. I love that he's adaptable like that, but certain things do seem to shake him. The song had a new intro that bewildered me, but I loved it dearly. Thomas left, and...
...and then there was a little monologue about prerecorded songs, and I knew we were going to be the third or so audience to enjoy Don't Stop on My Account. Even though he and Thomas (!!!) are apparently going into the studio pretty soon, I doubt anything will come of this in time...it sounds like the kind of thing like "wouldn't it be cool if we had a huge drum machine part under all this?" Thomas came in part way. Like a lot of the music of Arcade Fire and Radicalface, the whole song pivots around that 4-on the floor, here used to more poppy and bouncy effect. It was a really fun result, but it's the poppiest I've ever heard Owen, and I'm not sure I'm a fan. He followed it with He Poos Clouds, which is always tight and well-memorized, making both a sincere and arresting performance. No looping, I think? It's just belt it out, and also a chance for Owen to gather himself in comfortable territory.
"What are you drinking?" "Harpoon IPA Pale Ale. Thomas got he hooked on it." *cheers* "Oh, is that a local thing?" "How do you like Boston?" "It's nice! When I was first here I only liked the architecture."
Welcome back Thomas to a really delightful version of Flare Gun segueing to The Butcher. They followed it with a really really really especially specially done Many Lives -> 49 MP. They closed with Lewis Takes Off His Shirt. The song was especially interesting to me because I heard how Thomas was changing the way he used percussion (Wilbur: no snare click; Outremont: all snare click; ICA: some snare click) to keep the beat moving. He reserved the good stuff for the end (I think he called it a "piece of work").
The encore was kind of sad. It was a botched version of This Lamb Sells Condos, which fell apart once or twice, and Owen didn't have the graces to not launch into a short monologue about it. I chatted up Thomas after, and he said he wasn't satisfied with it as a whole, especially as a jumping off point to the rest of the tour. As a fan I loved it, and the whole venue was with me I think. The strong moments of a band who knows themselves and their set really well can't be overshadowed by mixups and fuckups, and I do not feel cheated in any way shape or form. Plus, I heard three songs I'd been dying to hear, and strong performances of many others. How can I go wrong?
I'm worried that the Osheaga setlist is going to suck, like the Coachella setlist did. But I think the performance will still be vibrantly spot-on. Long Live Owen and Thomas.