review by Ryan Bort
photos by Brittney Bush Bollay
The rolling Canadian indie rock revue crossed the border and visited the Crocodile Café on Thursday, with all three acts on the bill — Hollerado, Julie Doiron, and headliner The Besnard Lakes — hailing from the land of the moose, hockey, and Neil Young. The night got started late because of car troubles Hollerado had on their way down from Vancouver, but the crowd was amiable, laid back and willing to have a few extra drinks. As was The Besnard Lakes front man Jace Lasek, who was unmistakable in his rose-adorned western shirt, orange-tinted glasses, and imposing stature, towering above the crowd as he milled about and chatted with fans between the bar and smoking porch. Not quite as imposing was Julie Doiron. I was genuinely shocked when the modest looking woman in a green tee-shirt and denim skirt standing next to me throughout Hollerado’s set was all-of-a-sudden up on stage tuning a black Ibanez, getting ready to play a set of her own.
I had never seen Julie Doiron live before, but based on what I had heard of her recorded material, I didn’t think the first word I would be using to describe her set would be “raw.” Well, she most definitely was raw, as well as being freewheeling, carefree, and a general badass. On stage it was only her and a drummer, but her guitar playing was so impressively full that nothing else was necessary. Most all of the songs she played consisted of an ebb and flow of restrained guitar, drum, and vocal lines alternating with sections where Doiron would step away from the mic, turn to her drummer and let her guitar have it as she flailed around and shook her head. She also played a few “love” songs during which the drummer came forward and took over the guitar duties as Doiron would sing and gesture to the crowd with open palms. This was more of what I expected from Doiron, but it wasn’t long before the electric guitar was back on, the drummer was behind his kit, and she was playing more of the bare bones, unpolished style of rock that her albums for the most part neglect to showcase.
There was a long hiatus following Julie Doiron’s set, during most of which Lasek was on stage by himself, tuning and straightening out his effects pedals and looking like Brian Jones with his mop of blonde hair and white small-bodied guitar. Eventually he left the stage and after a few short minutes it was time for The Besnard Lakes to play. The stage was bathed in green light and fog started to pour out from offstage as an old recording of a voice contemplating the expansiveness of the cosmos began to play. As the fog intensified the voice began to trip out, reverberating and repeating into itself, lifting the crowd with it into space, where we would be floating with The Besnard Lakes’ atmospheric melodies for the rest of the night.
They began the set with “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent,” the first song off of their recently released album The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night. The song begins with a few piano chords punctuating Lasek’s high-pitched crystalline voice, which over the course of the night was reminiscent of everyone from Jonsi of Sigur Ros, to Jim James of My Morning Jacket, to Brian Wilson, who is a clear influence on the band’s vocal melodies and harmonies. They went on to play their new album almost in its entirety, as well as some older favorites such as “And You Lied to Me.” The Besnard Lakes’ songs are spaced out, deliberate, and usually build up to an all-encompassing explosion of distortion and reverberation to which the term “wall of sound” most definitely applies. During the rising action of many of their songs, guitarist Richard White plays with a desolate, reverberating twang that brings to mind the expansiveness of the wild west rather than that of space, but during the songs’ crescendos his left hand is glued to the high end of the neck as his strumming hand vibrates over the strings as ferociously as a hummingbird’s wings, emitting waves upon waves of ambient distortion. While White’s Guitar playing and especially Lasek’s voice carry the band’s sound higher into space, Kevin Laing’s drums and Lasek’s wife Olga Goreas’s pulse-like bass balance it out, with Goreas’s soothing, melodious backing vocals serving as the perfect complement to her husband’s soaring voice. For the encore, the lights on the stage turned to red and, as requested, the band played a few songs off of their first release Volume I. After they finished, they quickly left the stage and, right on cue, the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” started blaring through the venue speakers.
The Besnard Lakes: