Sunday, April 01, 2012

Tense and Dense: Breton Live

At a time when GarageBand, Pro Tools, AutoTune, MPC's and MacBooks are the basics of many bands's arsenal, the question of what they can deliver in a live setting can loom ever larger. That's not to say that a band has to be great on stage to be great - three unsatisfying live encounters with Siouxsie & The Banshees in their heyday proved that point definitively. However, putting on a great concert is a way to expand on existing material, showcase new songs, and deepen the bond between musicians and fans.

Back in 2010, when I first discovered Breton on an episode of the Iodacast, the possibility of seeing them live was as remote as solid information about who they were and what they were doing. In the months since, that's changed considerably due to what appears to be a measured plan of growing exposure and prominence (not to mention - full disclosure moment - my befriending the band members on Facebook). This campaign recently came to a head with multiple performances at SXSW and their NYC debut at Mercury Lounge last Wednesday, and will culminate with the release of their first album, Other People's Problems, on March 26th.
Even though they take full advantage of all the above mentioned soft- and hardware, Breton's sound is emphatically that of a band, with all the energy that implies, so I was not expecting an arid bunch of laptop jockeys to take the stage on a foggy night last week. And while there were two MacBook's and at least one MPC on stage, I was not wrong. Anchored by the explosive, gestural, angular-yet-swinging drumming of Adam Ainger, the five piece group leapt out of the gate and did not let up for the hour of their set. Although they performed in the dark (more on that later), the light from the films they projected was enough to see their expressive movements. They were clearly making the kind of music they like to listen and dance to and their engagement had much of the crowd moving constantly.

Taut barbed-wire bass, usually played by Daniel McIlvenny, and the jagged guitar of vocalist Roman Rappak interlocked perfectly with Ainger's drums and created a tense, nervy foundation for the dense blocs of sound perpetrated by Ian Patterson on the various electronics. On the impressive newer songs, the sampled material included rich string arrangements by their FatCat Records label-mate, Hauschka - a welcome embellishment to their sound.

Rappak's vocals are the final component and his plain-spoken yet slightly wounded tone is perfect for the sentiments of betrayal, confusion, sorrow and anger that make up the subject of many of their songs (i.e. this modern world that we live in). On the brutal blast of Edward The Confessor, he pushed a little harder but never edged into shouting, and on this song and the recent How Can They Tell, he is showing greater and greater range and proving himself more than up to the task of meeting the variety of moods, sounds, and textures that make up the growing palette of their sound.

The group started as a filmmaking collective that just made music to accompany their visuals. Obviously, with the current touring and imminent record release, their sonic efforts are in the foreground (although Rappok recently helmed a Sinead O'Connor video). When asked why they performed in the dark, Patterson let on that it was so that the accompanying visuals (run by Ryan McClarnon) could be seen and also to preserve a certain anonymity that would keep the focus on the music. A fair point, however the Mercury Lounge doesn't quite have the resources to realize that vision. No worries - such a group canny artists will soon have those details sorted.

The show at Mercury Lounge proved without a doubt that Breton can bring it onstage, and, in a venue with more sophisticated staging, their films and the vision of stylized anonymity will come to fruition in what should be a thrilling experience. I, for one, plan to be in the front row.

P.S. The boys return in May for two shows opening up for meat and potatoes indie-rockers We Were Promised Jetpacks (think Arctic Monkey's duller cousins), but it will be worth your while to catch them while you can.

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