Tuesday, 4 June 2013

MAK + Fire/Works + FM HI LOW at Sala Rossa

MAK + Fire/Works + FM HI LOW  |  Sala Rossa

ROCCO BAMBACE  |  Nonchalant Artistry

The velvet curtains in La Sala Rossa hang massive. They take whatever light they can from the weak bulbs overhead and cast a red glow on the faces of the eager show goers. The stage and bar face each other on opposite ends of the otherwise bare room. Between them lies the right amount of wooden tiles. This comes in handy later on, when feet and hips start moving.

There’s that nighttime musk of beer and sweat. Faces gravitate to other faces. Mouths open and close to say things about the weather, globalism and last week's bands. The scarlet curtains hang solemn and knowing. An obsessed fly refuses to fuck off, forcing me to inspect my beer for its black body before each sip. The room is warm and windowless.

I go to sit Indian-style in the middle of the dance floor with the other weirdos as FM HI LOW takes the stage. The jolted rhythm of the drums have that ambiguous flow you can stand or sit to.

Frontman Fraser MacDougall’s singing is slick and apparently effortless. Find me another white boy who can reggae like this.

“This next song was written by the Lachine canal,” he tells us, “where there’s a bunch of condos now.” Someone belches a loud Boo from the bar, and Fraser nods. “That’s how I feel.”

We’re hit now and then with fat, dub bass that growls out of the blue, and it feels so nice. I am no longer sitting. All our hands are unpocketed, each of us with at least one body part following the summer rhythms to the set's last measures. They thank us and disappear. The silence calls for refills and smokes.

Fire/Works are not met as warmly by the crowd, who listens with open ears to their first tracks, but by the third song knows what to expect. FM HI LOW got them dancing, and they would’ve liked to keep that up all night, but this new music doesn't really allow it.

Soon into the set the crowd takes back some attention. You can hear distracting conversational buzz in the ambience of the sounds coming from stage.

There’s charm to this set - maybe it’s harder to dance to, but the songs contain their share of poetry. An accordion appears, weirdly welcoming itself to the folk flow. Out of a pocket comes a guitar slide, and when it glides over the steel strings the crowd shuts up some.

Their big closer is a cover of Thom Yorke’s ‘Atoms For Peace’, not something I expected to hear in the red room. I catch the eye of some Yorkeian kindred spirit in the crowd and we exchange telepathic yeses - Thom would be proud.

Jesse MacCormack, whose strange brain fathers all of MAK’s songs, takes the stage solo. We’re all salivating slightly, anxious to unwrap whatever audible presents he brought for us.

Formerly a quintet, MAK has recently evolved to a three-piece. As someone who goes loco over spatial, alienesque music, their self-titled debut album sold me halfway into the opening song. The album has since soundtracked a lot of my sidewalking. There were times recently when I’d be on my way to a bus stop or something, listening to the album, and the sincerity of the pained vocals coupled with a large cymbal crash would violently catapult me from the sidewalk to the stars and back, understandably leaving me dizzy and cross-eyed and the bus driver would give me that sour look he reserves for freeloaders and drunks before letting me in. Tonight they’ll be trying out some new material.

“The first record is basically a bunch of layers,” Jesse told me after soundcheck, on a short walk round the block of Sala Rossa. “The band contributed, but it’s really a sessioned work; a studio work. So it has this polished sound that I kind of want to get away from. I want to go towards something a bit more crunchy, close.”

“Like... vinyl?” I suggested.

“Yeah, so you can hear all the instruments and have the feeling that the band’s playing in your living room.”

Jesse’s nonchalant solo performance pumps his artistic indifference toward the crowd, getting us to know him a little better. When the drummer and bassist join him on stage we realize all that was just an appetizer.

There is crunch, yes, and there is intimacy. Certain lyrical lines map out a universal sorrow, followed by other lines that indicate an eternal comfort in that sorrow. The edge on the singer’s voice is stark and steep - it sucks us in and regurgitates us back, the sonic vomit on our bodies dripping down our fingertips and noses as we dance to shake it all off.

Thoroughly enchanted by the set, I allow my right hand a moment of carelessness which quickly results in me being that guy who dropped the beer on the dance floor. Thankfully no one seems to notice except that fly who was bugging me earlier. The moment the cup hits the floor, he is all over it, chugging down a section of the lake of booze, surely getting blackout wasted. I am extremely grateful that he only chose to indulge in my beer after it has become embarrassingly clear that I’d not be drinking it.

The show goes on regardless of beer puddles. Jesse’s stage talk between songs consists mostly of deep-bellied belches which he aims directly into the mic. The burps carry as broad a subtext as any Joycean printing, but we won’t be dissecting that here.

The set ends a little past my weeknight bedtime, but too soon all the same. I would’ve liked another beer and another hour of MAK. When I get home, tired but still musically hungry, I listen to their album again. It is not the album containing the songs just played. That’ll be out next spring. I do not play it on vinyl. In fact I pop it into a PS2 (!) DVD player.

Still, I am able to close my eyes and fool myself into thinking the guys are indeed in my living room, playing for me. Obtain this album, pop it into a receiver in your living room, and close your eyes. Send a thought my way if you feel the same.
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