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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Smith Westerns july 2013


Smith Westerns  |  Il Mottore

UPSIDE OF SOLITUDE  |  MARCELLO FERRARA
         PHOTOS  |  VALERIA VEGA

June 28, 2013 – The remainder of the 70% chance of shower dripped off the rafters. The clouds were still gray. There would be no setting sun on this summer night. I slouched under the crystalized shelter, peaking my head left and right to spot the 80 bus. There were a few people on the streets. One woman that I saw stroll on by carried a large floral umbrella, even though the sky now offered not even a trickle. I checked my phone: first for the time, second for a message. I had an hour before the concert and no messages. I had invited others to join me, but the few that responded – the few I reached out to – all declined. I was travelling alone to see Smith Westerns play at Il Mottore.

For me, Varsity, the first single off Smith Westerns third album Soft Will, is 2013’s song of the summer – at least my summer anyway. I first heard it played from a distant speaker at a party. I drifted out of the conversation I was having, and when it was clear that I wasn’t even listening to the other person, I sort of just wandered over to noise that caught my attention. I sat down next the speaker-master, a friend of mine, and asked him who it was.

“Smith Westerns,” he said.

“Never heard of them.” I replied. 

“I’ve just been obsessed with this song,” he confided. When I came home that night and got the single for myself, so was I.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that I wouldn’t have to shell out the big bills for Osheaga to see them play! Taking place in that desolate sonic space before the music festival, the young Chicago band, composed of brothers Cullen and Cameron Omori, Max Kakacek, and Julien Ehrlich, was set to cool Cabaret du Mile End. In a last minute switch, they were relocated to Il Mottore, with Wampire, a band I had never heard of, opening.

As I sat on the bus, I watched the empty parks at the foot of Mont Royal. Earlier, when I went under the shade of a tree in Jean Mance Park, I saw tens of families and groups of friends sitting in that bright sun, enjoying their summers. Many people, when asked what their favourite season is, say summer. The summer is, especially for Canadian, the absolute antithesis of what may be the least favourite, but most familiar feeling: the cold. The summer is the time for friends, picnics – the stuff of the greatest Norman Rockwell paintings. For me, the summer is the opposite. It’s the summer when I feel the most alone. Perhaps it’s a purely student phenomenon, but summer always meant my friends all scattering to the four winds and leaving me alone in some awkward summer camp or tedious day job.

The crowd at Il Mottore was one of the most eclectic gatherings of people I’d seen in a while. They were equal numbers of frat-bros, high school kids, older joy division t-shirt wearing adults, and so on. I was the loner, inconspicuous, silent, standing somewhere left of centre stage, where the light failed to reach. I certainly felt like an outsider, and a lonely one at that.

Perhaps the rain had melted my shell and exposed my softer side that night, but I was nearing a panic attack when Wampire ambled onstage. Portland natives, Wampire is four person rock group, led by core members Eric Phipps and Rocky Tinder. In their dark and dirty oversized vinyl tees, long hair, and sweet mustaches, they looked like bassists for Blue Oyster Cult. I expected to hear calm 60’s psychedelia, to match the tone of the upcoming Smith Westerns. Not so. Within moments, the whole room of Il Mottore was flooded, wall to wall, with seriously intense techno-rock. Their music took a good feeling and floored it into your ears, until your heart was pounding with good vibrations. Songs like their single The Hearse, which sound cool on recording, are defeaning live, and that’s a good thing. The crowd was shocked off balance. And all the insecure voices in my head were drowned out. They finished their set, and I instantly wanted to hear a full headline show from them.

In the interim, I could feel the isolation returning. I stood outside, smoked a cigarette, stared out the dark store front of the lamp store across from Il Mottore, and considered for a moment if that was a profound symbol of irony.

It was time. Smith Westerns hopped on stage. I knew they were young, discovered in high
school for their first self-titled LP, but still, four years later and they were probably no older than me. Their set was cool, clean, well-rehearsed.  Omori addressed the misfit crowd and came off cocky-funny. He was enjoying himself - not exceptionally - it seemed like he always acted this way.

If you’ve never heard what Smith Westerns sound like, go do that now. Start anywhere, and work your way either forwards or backwards, because it’s an interesting musical progression anyway you go. They started off garage rocking (literally), and moved to excited 80’s rock of T. Rex variety. With Soft Will, their latest album, they’ve calmed down, preferring slower jams to party mixes.  In their best moments, they remind me of Man Who Sold the World-era David Bowie. They mix a few repeated guitar riffs with really expressive synths. When Omori sang the first bit of White Oath, their slowest and best ballad on the new album, I was flushed.  “Couldn’t get anyone to listen,” He sang “, Tried my best, but there’s always something missing.” One guitar echoed along with him. White Oath sounds like the first and last two minutes of Pink Floyd’s Time, with all the ambient noise cut out. In its place, a three note electronic piano plays, and lifted my spirits up with its melody. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone.

At the end, after the quick and quiet tunes, they played Varsity. How do you describe a song that took the words right out of your mouth when you heard it? 

The drums kick it right off. Then swoop in a dance of ethereal synths. They swirl together. They send you hurtling forward in the void like a comet. Omori starts singing, “I thought I was a loner until I went out on my own.” And then, they had me. I was carried off by their music, crowd surfing on the ocean. “Cause I know it’s hard to be alone,” the chorus goes, “Count the days, count the nights, but don’t get by.” I could hear the words clearer than the rain. They slipped into my ears, right along the heartstrings. And they lifted me, out of the mob and outside of myself. Their music helped me that night – maybe it will help you too. 


The drums kick it right off. Then swoop in, a dance of ethereal synths. They swirl together. They send you hurtling forward in the void like a comet. Omori starts singing, “I thought I was a loner until I went out on my own.” And then, they have me. I am carried off by their music, crowd surfing on the ocean. “Cause I know it’s hard to be alone,” the chorus goes, “Count the days, count the nights, but don’t get by.” I can hear the words clearer than the rain. They slip into my ears, right along the heartstrings. And they lift me, out of the mob and outside of myself. 

Their music helped me that night, maybe it will help you too.






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