A blog is only worth the voice of its speaker; softspoken, hardtyping folk will suffer a hardsoftmind. Lots of my thoughts about this show will need to find another home than an outpouring over a setlist. This is true: the intimate environment, the genesis of a long tour, the retooling of much new material, and Thomas' greater role made the experience...something else, something else. Something new. SOMETHING FUCKING FANTASTIC.
THOMAS: 1) Betty Carter cover ("Music can come from nowhere...")
2) ??? ("...dusty Springfield...")
3) Gwen Stefani cover ("It's hard to remember how it felt before...")
4) ??? ("Jenny's gone home again...")
5) Justin Beiber cover ("Everybody's laughing in my life...")
Talking with Thomas is just a generally good idea. He's an open dude, and you get a lot of cool tidbits in conversation (invite-only record stores, preference for baritone guitar, status of his EP). Being asked to perform on the fly seemed to jar him, and so the transitions between the lovingly-daubed guitar chord cycles were unclear, cut off at the first verse, or just felt unfinished.
But the man rose to the occasion and did a beautiful job transmuting pop/alt-pop covers into new spaces of multifunctional chords and a soaring, tender voice. The way he crafts harmony and melody is a lot less clear than Owen's writing, and his use of motive is either non-existent or highly hidden, peeking out of the density of his movements.
Yet that density, and that attention to harmony and melody, are things that Owen embodies in his music as well. They're great patners in that light, and Thomas' inspired skills on bass, guitar, and percussion are an incredible and increasing asset. Also: Thomas' voice over his sound caves is incredibly vulnerable, often inaudible or only mouthed or whispered. Owen, in his turn, takes an incredible risk in the placement of his melodies within the structure of his tunes. He sings with it. In any case, these covers resembled "Love Is the Candle" most from Self Help, but the experience was much more expansive.
Interesting to filter it through a cover medium, too. Thom mentioned how it allowed him to place meaning into a song without being bound to it. It also allows someone to connect to the song in a new way, giving him the strong power to, as he did genre-wise in the weirdo pop of Self Help, redefine the terms of engagement for these pop songs, and pop at large.
In sum: Thomas' music seems to be about insertion into a structural void, in the way that chords don't necessarily follow from each other, but in recognizing the fact and consequence of their general out-of-place-ness, strive to give meaning and turn to a phrase. It's a timidly sort of constantly trying music, flitting beautifully around his vocals which somehow teeter on the edge of whispers and words. Ethereal isn't the right word, since there's so much purpose in it: so much melody! and some emergent harmonization! and so much...pop! What a perfect fucking compliment for Owen's music.
1) E is for Estranged
2) Don't Stop
3) This is the Dream of Win and Regine
4) Midnight Directives
5) Flare Gun
6) The Butcher
In the sketch of it, a pretty standard set. 3/4 "new" songs, and the typical strong songs from all of his records. Don't Stop in spot 2 was a great choice, I think; the energy of the quiet opener drew out over this dance tune, climaxed over Win and Regine, and balanced out with Midnight Directives, effectively setting a diverse and inclusive 4-song opening bit.
The set was almost entirely segued, except for necessary instrument changes; even then, Owen took an extra verse on Scandal to allow Thomas to finish tuning up. Maybe that's just Owen's tendency to rush, which could be corroborated by how quickly he's playing older tunes. It creates a string of performances whose effect is powerful, and whose segues were often perfectly executed, without grace cycles to correct mistakes or gain momentum/confidence.
That didn't mean that their weren't mistakes, including a "wrong button" moment here or there. I hastened to compare to the last show I saw them on, where they had just come off a break, embarking on a long tour, and the last song had some sort of huge breakdown which was really ok by the audience (then a performer error (?) on a This Lamb Sells Condos encore, and here some sort of broken sound device which cut out the polyphony on the climax of Lewis Takes Off His Shirt), in reasonably intimate venues. And yet this show had some sense of...comfort. Maybe it was the not-official scheduling, the acceptance inherent in a college show, the small and beautiful venue, the lack of pressure to open especially to a Rock Band's Set in a Rock Band's Venue with a Rock Band's Crowd. To be fair, Thomas was freakin' a bit from the sudden opener-ship himself, but Owen was so smooth, man. So smooth.
Smooth a lot like the new pop textures that treated the new songs, beginning with Don't Stop. What struck me most was the accompaniment: somewhat how comfortable, in this song and others, Owen is with killing tonality; but mostly how mature the harmonic textures were. The recorded version definitely added some new harmonic structure, and so it sorta stuck out by being "new." But...I feel Owen as a melodic composer, someone who could look at any texture and write a beautiful, expressive, complex melody over it. To go even further, I'd argue that his musical harmonic textures are often really, really basic; that's a good deal of what makes him a pop artist. But even these "poppy" cuts rejected from Heartland have wildly inventive harmony, and many of the songs tonight had new or just newer sounding harmonies (Estranged being one, and beyond the beautiful dynamics and harmonization I have little else to say on it).
Taking this harmony thread a little farther...Thomas' bass addition on This is the Dream of Win and Regine is just another way of giving the accompaniment more power, more flexibility in the hands of (a) a skilled guitarist, (b) an often harmonically ambiguous songwriter, and (c) a non-looped, highly adaptable musician. But what is melody to Owen? Is it...does it change from a simple expression of statement to a more complex yet brilliantly clear movement across textures? Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.
Just like the dynamics in Estranged or the climax of Dream, the fucking pizzicato on Midnight Directives was extraspectacular, drawing catcalls from all across the audience. Still don't like the sound-clutter that the organ introduces, but yeah. I paid far more attention to the bass and rhythm in this song. Thomas follows the Bass pattern very closely and sophisticatedly on the wood blocks, and helps to create a jerky sort of syncopation...or maybe just increasing density, another noble goal.
Flare Gun: Owen bows the riff like a hawk descending on whatever upon which hawks descend. The sonic/atonal/rhythmic density of the piece, which is characteristic of Heartland I guess, was a thread that I struggled with a lot during the concert but could never flesh out. What does it mean to have dense music? The effect was at least stunning, and major fucking hell yes on the basswork on that tune.
The Butcher: and all the ways he uses that bow, how he seems to have explored all the possibilities that one can explore in sounding a violin. Sonic experimentation is present everywhere in quiet ways around his music, in a way: looping itself, repatching certain taps on the violin to sound like snares, bowing on the bridge, glisses and pizz, hitting and smacking, shouting into the pickup...it at least betrays the curiosity of an ambitious musician, who strives constantly to bring new character to his music and live performance (ex: the throwaway mellotron-voice riff that he added to LTOHS in Boston, after not using the patch on LTA, seems to have stayed...why?). Thomas is such a great cushion for that, in following the cycles of the music, adding chords and picking Owen up. Or, being picked up. Hehe.