Thursday, November 14, 2013

review: mazzy star, psychic ills at the vic 11.13.13

For some reason I was expecting tonight to be a disaster—the past few days have been a mixed bag and I figured tonight would continue the trend. I should’ve taken the announcement that was made multiple times while I was waiting in line for the doors to open at the Vic tonight as a sign: no cell phone usage would be allowed during the concert. No pictures, no audio, no video recording. Anyone caught violating these rules would be thrown out of the show as per the band’s request. What should’ve clued me in further was how little of an impact this announcement made on anyone waiting in line around me. Once inside I walked up the stairs to check out the Vic’s balcony for the first time ever. I didn’t know there were seats up there or a wonderful unencumbered view of the stage from pretty much any seat. I had planned on getting there early to catch Psychic Ills, who aren’t one of my favourite bands, but I’ve seen them twice before (once was fantastic and the other was kind of a disaster). I don’t have their newest release, but I do have their other three (I like ‘Dins’ and ‘Hazed Dream’ well enough). They came out as a five piece and played a thoroughly decent set of more laid back psych. The emphasis was more on structured songs than before (the disastrous time that I saw them they did a completely improvised set of meandering experimental drone and it just didn’t quite land on its feet)—granted their songs are still very drone-based, but it was a nice change and I thought that it worked well. Their mix wasn’t the greatest, but it was better than some sets I’ve witnessed at the Vic. Plus they played 'Electric Life' from 'Dins' which was always a favourite of mine by them. They started 15 minutes late and when they were done at nine Mazzy Star’s crew set to work quickly on making the stage look nice for them—candles were lit and perched on every amp. Some sort of shower caddy/cupcake stand looking apparatus was set up next to Hope Sandoval’s microphone—it had four different surfaces that each had lit candles, a tambourine, a harmonica or three, what I assume were some kind of monitor controls and a sampler that Sandoval used to pipe ambient music out to the crowd between songs so as to maintain an atmosphere throughout the evening.

The houselights crept down lower and lower over the course of a half-hour and then the band came out and played a beautiful version of ‘Look on Down From the Bridge’ under soft blue and orange lights—a sunrise projected behind them. The projections, the candles, the dim lighting and the music made for a very immersive and ambient experience that was difficult not to get lost in. I was shocked at the clarity of the mix and the beauty of the entire thing. It’s one of my favourite songs of theirs for a start and I’ve always wanted to hear it performed live. Dave Roback’s guitar playing was careful and delicate—each note so deliberate and graceful, the perfect counterpoint to Sandoval’s soft vocals as well as the drums and the keyboards. The crowd was dead silent through the entire thing erupting into applause right after the song ended. I’ve seen Sandoval’s solo show twice—both occasions some of my most fondly remembered concert experiences—but Mazzy Star left both of those concerts in the dust. It was one of those concerts where you are aware that you’ve gotten your money’s worth three songs in (the last time this happened to me was when Neko Case played ‘Favorite’ at the Park West in 2007). The set ramped up slightly from the somber and elegant beginning when ‘In the Kingdom,’ the first song from their new album ‘Seasons of Your Day,’ made it’s appearance. I couldn’t believe how quiet everyone was, how great the mix sounded, how powerfully captivating the songs and ambience were or that I was actually there. Gem after gem after gem. The highlight of the show for me was when they played a dynamic version of ‘Does Someone Have Your Baby Now?’ with each band member entering the mix subtly as the song went on which went into ‘Ride it On’ and then into the long dormant ‘Into Dust’ which I wasn’t expecting to hear. After howling at the beginning of the song the audience snapped to attention—it was one of those times where you’re in a giant room full of people hanging on a performer’s every word. At one point I could hear the hand dryer in the women’s room out in the hallway it was so quiet. Talk about captivating.

There was a lot of yelling ‘I love you, Hope!’ ‘Hope you’re beautiful!’ going on, which normally isn’t received well by the band. It made me a bit worried as the night went on, but Sandoval thanked the crowd after nearly every song (which is atypical from what I’ve heard on bootlegs). The band played a perfect version of ‘Halah’ and ‘Fade Into You’ that sent me back to 1994 when I first heard both and then ended with ‘Blue Flower’ and ‘Disappear.’ They came back for two encores ('California,' 'So Tonight That I Might See' and 'I've Been Let Down')—which was incredibly and wonderfully unexpected bringing their playing time to a very generous hour-and-a-half.

Were there songs of theirs I wanted to hear and didn’t get to? Of course, but this is a band who I would want to hear every song in their discography played live, so expecting to hear all of my favourites in one evening seems kind of foolish. I’d rate this as the best show I’ve ever seen at the Vic—even better than Sigur Rós in 2001 and Godspeed You! Black Emporer in 2010. It was the polar opposite of the Black Rebel Motorcyle Club earlier in the year, which was marred by a douchey crowd and a rather muddy mix. This was one of those evenings that was absolutely blessed that I will always remember as one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

No comments: