Monday, May 19, 2014

Stacked Odds: Breton Live

Adam Ainger uses space to keep time, lifting his arms high above the drums to create the groove that drives Breton's taut songs. This left him slightly confined in the tight stage at Glasslands last Friday, but nothing he and his three mates weren't used to on their 22nd show in 26 days, cutting a swath through small clubs from LA to NYC. In Europe, Breton plays to thousands but they know that you need to go almost person to person to make an impression in America. Based on the reception in Williamsburg, they're on track.

Ainger's high hat work is also extraordinarily detailed, reminiscent of Dennis Davis's work with Bowie, and part of what makes him the most instrumentally virtuosic member of the band. But that's as it should be - a duff drummer will keep the most ambitious band from achieving lift-off. Even so, there was a marked difference in the comfort levels of everyone on stage since I first saw them over two years ago in their NY debut at Mercury Lounge. Ian Patterson, mostly controlling the electronics but occasionally slashing at a guitar, brought real style to his approach, whether jabbing a button, adjusting a sound or grabbing the mic to beef up the backing vocals. 

Dan McIlvenny was pure energy on bass and keyboards, seeking the same joy in movement that he probably finds on the dance floor, and Roman Rappak was assured as front man, bringing the crowd closer and dishing out atmospheric guitar or barbed wire bass as required. Even with the hard roadwork they did prior to reaching Brooklyn, he was in fine voice, maybe injecting a little more grit into his delivery, which was entirely welcome.

Their second album, War Room Stories, released earlier this year, was a step on from their debut, both drawing on pop influences and layering on orchestral arrangements for ambiance or epic sweep. Obviously, the orchestra is not on tour with them (perhaps they should connect with Hollie Cook and share the cost of taking a string section on the road) but that was no problem as the arrangements lent a consistency to the songs no matter what album they were from. The new material, especially Envy, Closed Category and Got Well Soon shined brightly, although a highlight was December from 2010, which they obviously still enjoy playing.

The other continuity you could put down to the near mayhem they created on stage, everyone in their own orbit but acting in concert and communicating constantly with glances and gestures, like a battle-hardened assault squad. Many in the audience reacted accordingly, dancing furiously and accenting the drama of the music with private choreography. 

At this point, I have to use my imagination to put myself in a crowd of five or seven thousand people at one of their shows. But another few campaigns like this recent tour across our massive and sometimes musically conservative nation should see them playing to larger and larger audiences. I'll be there next time either way.

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