Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Bear in Heaven at il Motore

Bear in Heaven + Paula  |  Il Motore

                PHOTOS  |  NEGAR NAKHAI

July 12, 2013 - “I feel like there are two kinds of good concerts,” Riley Fleck, drummer of the Montreal based band Paula told me, “They can either be just for fun, or totally overwhelming.” In just two hours, I would feel both.

Along Saint Laurent and Saint Denis, I had seen black and white posters that bore the names “Bear in Heaven” and “Paula” above a winking Sailor Moon, taped to telephone and traffic poles. After the concert, I felt like I had gained a new perspective on the image: the wink announced The Dionysia, the celebration of Dionysus, where art of comedy and tragedy were held in his name. By the end of the night, I had experienced both. 

Paula opened the show. Musically, they are far, far away from Bear In Heaven. The trio, composed of never-nude lead guitarist and vocalist David Carriere, keyboardist Jane Penny, and the aforementioned Mr. Fleck, performed calmly on stage. Together the threesome created Paula, a stripped down side project to their larger ensemble Tops. Their sound isn’t complicated, but it’s affective. The light drums kept in line the airily lead guitar and floating keyboard. While listening to the band, I imagined myself driving pleasantly under the summer sun. I am carefree without obstacles, an ocean to my right and the clear road in front.

There is a fourth wall to all art, even music performance. The banter is usually the breaking point: when band members speak directly to the audience, the mystique of the music is suspended. Paula took banter and ran so fast with it, they sprinted. During a technical hiccup, the leader singer snapped two of his strings, and the middle of replacing his guitar he asked the entire crowd to vote out one of the members of the band, besides himself. 

If they were off-beat or off-key, you wouldn’t care because they didn't care. They still had fun, and more importantly, their fun was infectious. The audience embraced their antics, enabled and engaged them. The cool smiling music only added to a perfectly humorous atmosphere. They were a joy to listen to, and especially to watch.

Bear in Heaven, a Brooklyn trio, inspired by diasporic and eclectic genres from Krautrock to Afrobeat, followed. For all the synthesis of different genres, the main influence felt is ambient noise. Behind all of their tracks there is a droning hypnotic ambient sound that would completely alter the tone of their music if it wasn’t present. All these discordant elements (the superb tribal drumming by Joe Stickney, the heavy bass line of Adam Wills) come together to form a beautiful musical environment. 

John Philipot, lead vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist, told me that his favourite show he ever attended was Swans’ concert two years ago, in Montreal. He said he felt completely in another planet. I felt the same way listening to them

While Paula's sound feels indigenous to Earth, Bear In Heaven's feels otherworldly. All of their tunes feel like a regular indie song playing in an ambient world. It’s exactly the twist that makes them sound incredibly unique and especially hypnotic live.

This isn’t music that you can just pass by in your day to day. When hooked on its wavelength, it feels like music to live in.  It overwhelmed me, like the best of tragedies. My only response to dance and shift in the geography of this incorporeal – but very real – landscape of sound around me. Most of the crowd was right there with me. 

There are many concerts, many that I have been to. Of them all, I remember those which feature a certain dichotomy within the show, represented here beautifully by the contrast of Paula and Bear In Heaven. One made me smile big, the other left me stunned. We need both in our lives, the farce and the sublime. Isn’t that why we go to art in the first place?

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